Jamaica’s Tourism Minister wants extension of new US travel initiative

NEW YORK – Minister of Tourism, Entertainment & Culture, Aloun Assamba, is suggesting that Caribbean Heads of State attending this week’s Conference on the Caribbean in Washington, D.C., should lobby the United States (US) Government for an extension on the new travel initiative requiring persons entering the US to have a valid passport.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), a US Homeland Security mandate, requires that all persons traveling to that country must bear a valid passport at the port of entry. The new policy came into effect in January 2007.

Addressing Caribbean nationals in New York City at the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Town Hall Meeting at the Medgar Evers College auditorium, in Brooklyn last Monday, June 11, Minister Assamba said that although there has been some fall off in visitor arrivals, it was still too early to make a definite determination on the impact of the new passport regime on the regional tourist industry.

“For the first quarter, we saw a reduction in the arrivals from the USA and we know that the new US passport regime would have had an effect, but we are hoping to see an increase in the numbers once we get over the confusion that now exists,” she said.

The US Government last week announced that as a result of the overwhelming demand for passports, it was suspending, through to September 2007, the Homeland Security mandate and will allow US nationals to travel abroad, providing that they can show proof that they have applied for a passport, which authorities now say will take up to 15 weeks for regular processing and six weeks for the expedited (rush) service.

Underscoring the importance of tourism to the Caribbean region, Minister Assamba reported that last year alone, Jamaica welcomed three million visitors, the result of a special program started in 2002.

“It was a successful year (for Jamaica) because we worked hard at it. If we were not prepared to entertain them in Jamaica, they would have gone some place else,” she said.

She noted that under Jamaica’s 10-year master plan for sustainable tourism development, some targets have been met.

“In some areas we have met the targets and in some we have not. There are lots of reasons for that and we are determining whether we have to make some adjustments, what kind of adjustments we have to make, and how we go forward,” Minister Assamba said.

(From left): Jamaica’s Consul General in New York, Dr. Basil K. Bryan; Minister of Tourism, Entertainment and Culture, Aloun Ndombet Assamba; Carole Guntley, Director General of Tourism; David Shields, Deputy Director of Tourism; Basil Smith, Director of Tourism, and Gail Moaney, EVP/Director-Travel & Economic Development, Ruder Finn Agency, NY. Occasion was the Town Hall meeting on Tourism as part of Caribbean Tourism Week 2007, held at the Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn

She was one of three Tourism Ministers addressing the meeting, which is one of the important items on the week-long agenda of Caribbean Tourism Week. The others were Allan Chastenet, St. Lucia; and Glen Beach, St. Vincent & The Grenadines).

The week concluded on Friday (June 15) with the Governor’s Ball at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, midtown Manhattan.

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