By Andrew Mitchell
As of Friday, Feb. 23, a new regulation that requires anyone flying or sailing into the U.S. to provide passports will have been in effect for a month. The regulation also applies to Americans travelling out of country, who now require passports to return home.
It’s still unknown what impact, if any, the new passport requirement is having on cross-border travel, and according to Tourism B.C. it will be at least another month before they will have any statistics on visitors from the U.S. National statistics will take even longer to assemble.
Tourism B.C.’s research department will be closely watching data as it comes in, said spokesperson Bettina Giblin, and will make the public aware of the situation. So far she says they have heard nothing, even anecdotally, to suggest that the passport rules are creating any major problems.
For Janice Ferguson of the Canadian Border Services Agency, it’s still early days.
“We did take a look at traffic numbers right after the new rules came into effect, and we didn’t see any immediate decrease in volumes or long lines at the airport,” she said. “There’s also a suggestion that more people would drive instead of fly, but we haven’t seen any numbers yet to prove that. We will be keeping a close eye on things, but right now we don’t have any data to say one thing or another is happening. It could take months before we have anything definite.”
Tourism Whistler is also watching things closely. In the meantime they are making sure the new passport requirement is communicated to U.S. visitors travelling by air, through their website, the Whistler.com reservation service, the travel media, and other booking agents.
“We don’t have any stats that represent impacts from this new legislation, but any issue like this that can impact travelers from a key market is something we need to keep top of mind,” said Michele Comeau Thompson, director of communications for Tourism Whistler. However, “according to TW research, air travelers to Whistler are highly likely to already have had passports prior to the legislation.
“TW research indicates that there will be more impact to the drive market from Washington state when passport legislation is confirmed for travellers crossing the border by ground. The good news is that these travelers still have until at least January, 2008 to get their passports.”
The only area where there is a noticeable impact at this point is at Passport Canada. Francine Charbonneau acknowledged that the department is well behind in processing applications, and will remain behind for the foreseeable future.