Travel agents gleeful over visa waiver
TRAVEL AGENTS from Latin America participating in the annual Sandals Golf Tournament yesterday almost threw their clubs, not in anger, but with glee, on learning that the Government of Jamaica recently waived visa requirements for 30-day vacationers from El Salvador, Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia, and Guatemala.
The select waivers represent a continuation of Jamaica's efforts to attract more visitors from Latin America and Eastern Europe.
"Seriously, are they going to do this?" asked Mirna Mendizabal of Amtours, Guatemala, one of 72 participants in the fourth Latin American Travel Agents Golf Tournament, which teed off yesterday at the Sandals Golf and Country Club in Ocho Rios.
"Do you know how hard it is to get the visa? We have to send the passport to the Jamaican consulate in Mexico, which takes up to two weeks. That's a tremendous hit for us. It will be easier for us to promote tourism for Jamaica.
"The cost to send the passport and get the visa is almost the cost of a US visa, about US$150. This will help a lot," Mendizabal added.
The new amendment has allowed nationals from those countries to enjoy a waiver, which previously existed only for holders of the United States, Canadian, the United Kingdom or Schengen visas.
Garth Laird, director of travel-industry programmes at Sandals, said the waivers would open up Jamaica to vacationers from those countries.
"Sandals has representatives across Central and Latin America - 10 persons covering Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Argentina, plus a call centre in Honduras - so that is definitely good news," he said.
Daniela Valdivia Terres of Vibra Peru Tours, traversing the 18-hole course with first-time Peruvian visitors Juan Angulo and Gianina Munarriz, broke the good news to her clients in rapid-fire Spanish before telling The Gleaner how happy she was with the development.
"You don't have to ask me for a reaction. You can already see it," she said, emphasising her glee with a hop.
"You certainly gave me good news today. I am a permanent resident of the US, so for me, it was easy. A regular Peruvian, we have to tell them they need to get a visa, which requires money and time,"' she explained.
Angulo and Munarriz said they each had to pay US$30 for their visas at the Jamaican consulate in Peru in addition to having to wait 15 days for the permit.
"They had to ask for a half-day off from work to go to the Jamaican consulate to apply, and, even with the pick-up, which is done only between the hours of 4-6 p.m., that requires more time away from work," Terres pointed out.
"This is a very nice destination for Peruvians, and this will make my job much easier to sell Jamaica," she added.