Image: Isla Verde Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Andres Leighton  /  AP
Tourists walk on Isla Verde Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Caribbean has seen declines of more than 10 percent this year in islands including Jamaica, St. Lucia and Grenada. Americans may be discouraged by passport rules, but some may simply want more exotic destinations.
updated 7/30/2007 4:35:41 PM ET 2007-07-30T20:35:41

The turquoise waters and white-sand beaches of the Caribbean appear to be losing some of their allure for U.S. tourists.

Americans who flocked to the islands in record numbers until recently are finding new destinations or staying home, leading to declines of more than 10 percent this year in islands including Jamaica, St. Lucia and Grenada.

Governments have aimed marketing pitches at Canada and Europe to compensate for slippage in the American market, which accounts for about 60 percent of the region's vital tourism business.

"The trickle-down effect is huge," said Richard Kahn, a spokesman for the Caribbean Tourism Organization. "In the long run, this could mean the loss of jobs throughout the Caribbean."

A new passport rule has discouraged some travelers. Americans returning by air from the Caribbean were required to present the document beginning earlier this year, although the U.S. is temporarily accepting proof of application because of a backlog.

But even U.S. territories unaffected by the new security measure have seen declines — the number of Americans visiting Puerto Rico dropped 9 percent in January compared with the same month last year, and the U.S. Virgin Islands saw a 7 percent drop.

Some simply want more exotic destinations.

"A lot of the larger islands are reaching that point where their market has been there, done that and is looking for a different experience," said Cheryl Carter, a tourism instructor at Florida International University.

Ken Zapanta, a 30-year-old Californian, said he and his wife enjoyed their visit to Barbados two years ago but they cannot justify another Caribbean trip.

"Once was enough," he said. "The beaches, you can get that anywhere."

The number of American visitors dipped in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before surging more than 10 percent over four years. Last year, U.S. tourists staying overnight reached a peak of 11.5 million, according to statistics from the Barbados-based CTO.

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Terrorism fears boosted the Caribbean's appeal as a safe, nearby destination, said Joe Goldblatt, senior lecturer at Temple University's School of Tourism and Hospitality Management. Over time, more U.S. tourists began visiting distant continents.

Facing uncertainty over when trends might reverse, Caribbean officials are focusing promotional efforts elsewhere.

Jamaica, hit by a 12 percent drop in American visitors this year, has started advertising more in Canada and Europe, said Basil Smith, Jamaica's tourism director. A strong euro helped boost European visits by 22 percent through April, he said.

The "spice island" of Grenada arranged for the German airline Condor to offer weekly service year-round instead of only in the winter, said tourism board spokesman Edwin Frank. St. Lucia is negotiating with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways to provide more flights.

Some analysts argue U.S. tourism will rebound quickly, attributing the recent decline in part to a sluggish U.S. housing market that has cut into Americans' spending.

But others fear the new passport requirement could haunt Caribbean resorts for years.

"Once an American has now got a passport, the world is their market," said Alec Sanguinetti, chief executive of the Caribbean Hotel Association. "They can go anywhere."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Caribbean way of life

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  1. Barbados

    This undated photo courtesy of the Barbados Tourism Authority shows Harrismith Beach, Barbados. Sun, surf and sand are the main draws on this tropical Caribbean island. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Barbados

    This undated photo courtesy of Barbados Tourism Authority shows The Watering Hole rum shop in Barbados. The rum shops on the island are good places to sample local food and drink, watch a game of dominos, or just get to know the friendly and hospitable Bajans. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. St. Lucia

    Developed, beautiful and situated in the Eastern Caribbean, St. Lucia is accessible from Europe and Canada, and reachable -- albeit not as easily -- from the United States. St. Lucia is known as a romantic destination. The island gets plenty of visitors, including wedding parties. (Holger Leue  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. St. Lucia

    Cocoa pods lie on the ground ready to be processed at Fondoux Plantation in Soufriere, St. Lucia. Cocoa is one St. Lucia's main produce alongside the more obvious banana crop. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. St. George's

    The capital of Grenada, St. George's is considered one of the prettiest harbor towns in the Caribbean. Grenada's unique layout includes many finger-like coves, making the island a popular sailing destination. (Richard Cummins  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The Cayman Islands

    The Cayman Islands very popular attractions, Stingray City and the nearby shallows known as the Sandbar, provide the only natural oportunity to swim with Atlantic Southern Stingrays. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Stingray City

    The Cayman Islands very popular attractions, Stingray City and the nearby shallows known as the Sandbar, provide the only natural oportunity to swim with Atlantic Southern Stingrays. (David Rogers / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. St John's

    In high season, up to five cruise ships visit St John's, Antigua, each day. The boats unload mostly American and European passengers who fan out across the island visiting the casinos and beaches. Antigua is easily accessible, and can offer good values for tourists. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Antigua

    Antigua, located in the Northeastern Caribbean, is a popular tourist spot. While there are high-end, stylish hotels, the island also features a large number of mid-priced options. Visitors will find beach bars, restaurants, casinos and shopping. (Richard I'Anson  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Antigua

    People walk along an area known as Devils Bridge in Indian Town Point, Antigua. Antigua is a wintertime destination for many visitors from the north. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Dominica

    Not as well known as other Caribbean islands, Dominica is green, fertile and mountainous. Visitors will find some opportunites to scuba dive, but watersports are not its main draw. The island does, however, offer a slew of rainforest trails -- great for hiking and sightseeing. (Greg Johnston  / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Dominican Republic

    An old church building is seen in La Romana, the third-largest city in the Dominican Republic. (Wayne Walton / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Belize

    Belize gets more than 850,000 visitors each year. The hot spot allows watersports such as kayaking and snorkeling, as well as inland activities like hiking and birding. The Mayan ruins of Altan Ha, pictured, are easily accessible from Caye Caulker. (Andrew Marshall / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. La Tortuga

    A fisherman repairs his nets on Cayo Herradura, off the island of La Tortuga in Venezuela. The country offers visitors a variety of activities to choose from, but remains undervisited -- especially compared to its South American neighbors. (Lynne Sladky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Cuba

    Cuba blends the fantastic attractions associated with other Caribbean destinations with an amazing history. Tourists can stroll white sand beaches, take in the incredible architecture and party into the early-morning hours. (Javier Galeano / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. St. Barthelemy

    St. Barthelemy is a vacation spot of stars and millionaires. Trendy, chic and sexy, St. Baarths is safe for tourists, but expensive to visit. About 8,700 people reside on the island. (Mark Mainz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Puerto Rico

    A man climbs to a 40-foot waterfall at the south side of the Caribbean National Rain Forest, commonly called El Yunque, near Naguabo, Puerto Rico. Most visitors hike the well-marked paths in the northern half of the park's rain forest but the trails in the south allow hikers and nature lovers to explore the only tropical forest in the U.S. national forest system. (Herminio Rodriguez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Puerto Rico

    The cupola of San Juan Cemetary as well as colorful homes sit next to the ocean in Old San Juan, the original capital city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The old city is a historic district of seven square blocks made up of ancient buildings and colonial homes, massive stone walls and vast fortifications, sunny parks and cobblestoned streets. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Puerto Rico

    Men play dominos in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Old San Juan is a well-preserved colonial city that allows tourists a peek into the past. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Guadeloupe

    Guadeloupe isn't as developed as some other Caribbean islands, but it offers a variety of beaches -- some active with watersports, some secluded. The island also offers beach bars, restaurants, mid-range hotels and other tourist amenities. (Marcel Mochet / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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