Nov. 30, 2006 – V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association members are taking the bull by the horns when it comes to combating a misperception that U.S. citizens flying back to the United States from the territory need a passport to enter starting Jan. 23.
However, travelers returning from Caribbean locations not flying the U.S. flag do need passports.
"We're just getting caught up in the general umbrella of the Caribbean," association marketing director Luana Wheatley said Thursday.
Wheatley said that many news stories do not distinguish between the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and the rest of the Caribbean.
The requirement comes under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. According to the U.S. State Department's website, "U.S. citizens returning directly from a U.S. territory are not considered to have left the U.S. territory and do not need to present a passport. U.S. territories include the following: Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Swains Island and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands."
Wheatley said it's particularly important to reach the unseasoned traveler who may not be aware that the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are the only Caribbean locales exempt from the new rule.
She said that bookings are down anywhere from 5 to 20 percent thanks to travelers' incorrect impression that they need a passport.
The No Passport Required promotion gives travelers a 20 percent discount on bookings made Dec. 1 through Dec. 31 for five nights of travel throughout the entire year 2007 at participating hotels.
"High season, low season, shoulder season, it doesn't matter," Wheatley said.
The participating hotels include Divi Carina Bay and Caravelle hotels on St. Croix.
On St. Thomas, the list includes Best Western Carib Beach, Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, Marriott Frenchmans Reef Beach Resort, Holiday Inn and Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort and Spa. Also participating is the Westin Resort and Villas on St. John.
Apple Vacations, Libgo Travel, the Mark Travel, Travelocity, Travel Impressions, and US Airways Vacations committed a total of $121,782 toward a marketing program that launches this weekend. The program will feature ads in the New York Times, Boston Herald and other major newspapers, website display ads, e-mail promotions and fax blasts.
This is an incredible show of support for the U.S. Virgin Islands from our travel partners, association President Beverly Nicholson Doty said in a news release.
To further promote this offer to consumers and travel agents, the association's Cooperative Marketing Initiative will invest $25,000 toward an aggressive campaign that includes media releases, e-mails to over 92,000 travel agents, and an e-mail campaign to an opt-in list of consumers.
Additionally, the association has been actively working over the past six months to promote the territory's exemption from the passport rule. Members have written to Delegate Donna M. Christensen to enlist her help.
According to the press release, Christensen contacted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to request more prominent placement of the V.I. exemption on the State Department website.
"It's buried on the State Department's website," Wheatley said.
Richard Doumeng, manager of Bolongo Bay Beach Resort and 3rd vice president of the Caribbean Hotel Association, requested in writing that the Caribbean Hotel Association and the Caribbean Tourism Organization mention the V.I. and Puerto Rico exemption when discussing the new passport rule.
The Hotel Association also developed a "no passport required logo placed on all press releases, product updates and on each page of the website.
The organization sent out two separate e-mails to 97,000 travel agents, sent an electronic newsletter to travel agents and consumers, and put a downloadable version of the newsletter on its website.
For more information on the association's efforts to promote the territory's passport exemption, contact the office at 774-6835.
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