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Jury out so far on impact of new U.S. passport rules

Strong U.S. dollar may be offsetting impact



It has been almost a month since new passport rules were introduced by the United States, but the jury is still out on what impact they are having on cross-border travel.

Some U.S. tour operators are reporting that travel to Canada is down and cite the passport rule as a cause.

But Tourism Whistler's Jeff McDonald said it is too soon to quantify the impact.

And, he said, it is almost impossible to separate this cause and effect at a time when the global economic crisis is causing travel to decline in double digits everywhere.

"We won't see a room nights report for June until near the end of July," said McDonald, TW's manager of corporate and member communications.

"It is going to be a challenging summer due to the global economic climate so it would be very difficult to attribute changes in business levels solely to that new regulation."

John Stachnik, vice president of the United States Tour Operators Association, and head of Illinois-based Mayflower Tours, said that the passport rules have affected his motor coach company's routes.

In some cases, he told the National Post recently, U.S. travelers are booking their trips inside the U.S. and foregoing travel to Canada.

Partner Mary Stachnik said, however, that the strong U.S. dollar is helping to offset the challenges of the new cross-border identification rule.

It would also be nice, she added if border guards would cut U.S. visitors some slack as everyone gets used to the new rules.

On Monday one of her clients on a coach tour from Seattle to B.C. had to cancel their trip after it was discovered that the person did not have any of the required identification.

"The traveller forgot their passport and they had to turn around," she said, adding that hospitality companies may need to call every client to make sure they are reading and understanding all the information on the new rules provided to them.

"That is not what we want to hear but that is the reality of the situation.

"Everybody has been able to get in and out with their driver's licence or state ID - that has been forever. So just because our government is saying this thing doesn't mean that people get it yet."

As of June 1 the new U.S. regulation, known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requires, U.S. citizens 16 years of age or over who re-enter the United States by land and sea to have a passport or other appropriate secure document like a NEXUS card, Free and Secure Trade (FAST) card, an enhanced driver's licence (EDL), or an enhanced identification card (EIC). Foreign citizens entering the United States must also have one of these secure documents.