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Caribbean worried about losing business over passport rule

According to this article on CNN, the new requirement that Americans going to the Caribbean will have to show a valid U.S. passport to enter Caribbean countries as of Dec. 31 this year could prove catastrophic for the region--to the tune of up to $2.6 billion a year and almost 200,000 tourism-related jobs. This is based on findings of a study conducted by the World Travel and Tourism Council on behalf of the Caribbean Hotel Association.

How is this possible? I know on our annual migration to the British Virgin Islands, pretty much everyone on our U.S.-originated flight is waiting in the customs line with their passport out. Maybe the BVI is different? It's not that big a hassle to get a passport, and it doesn't cost much in the general scheme of a Caribbean vacation, so I'm having a hard time understanding why it could hit the region so hard. The only thing in the article that makes sense to me is that it would discourage last-minute trips for those who currently don't have passports, but are there really that many people who decide to take a vacation with no advance notice? We start planning ours the day we get back!

I don't see that it would hurt the meetings business down there, at any rate, though it might be an inducement to get people to register earlier if they have to get a passport to get there. Or am I missing something?

Update: Color me clueless. A reader just informed me via e-mail that only one in five Americans have a passport, and that it would be virtually impossible for the remaining 80 percent to get one by the deadline. (For a fascinating discussion on all this, check out Phil Gyford's site.) But still, how many of those 80 percent will be taking short-lead-time trips to the Caribbean early in 2006? And they still can't get passports in future years to the tune of $2.6 billion per year?

In my experience, getting a passport is a lot less of a hassle than getting a drivers license renewed, which is one of the forms of ID you currently need to have to travel to the Caribbean. This reader also said that "The other thing is that many people are indicating that many American's don't have the basic paperwork -- birth certificates etc that they need for the process." Well, then they couldn't go anyway, because you do currently need at least some of the same types of ID that you need to get a passport. I must still be missing something, because this still makes no sense to me.

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