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Passport education programs underway

Passports required as of January 23 to enter U.S. by air

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By Andrew Mitchell

With the weeks and months counting down until new security laws go into effect at American border crossings, tourism organizations on both sides of the border have ratcheted up their campaigns to educate a public that’s unaware and in some cases confused by new U.S. passport requirement.

At the same time, state and provincial governments, tourism associations and other organizations opposed to the passport requirements under the U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative are increasing their own lobbying efforts to have the new rules delayed, lifted, or altered to allow for existing forms of identification.

The new requirement applies only to people entering the U.S., including American tourists who have to pass through borders and customs to return home. Typically driver’s licences, birth certificates and other forms of government identification were adequate for people entering, or returning to, the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Panama, and most Caribbean destinations.

The new passport requirement will be phased in over a year. Opponents succeeded in pushing back the passport requirement for airports from Jan. 1 2007 to Jan. 23. People travelling to the U.S. without a passport after that time may be turned back, or forced to go through a time-consuming screening process.

For people travelling by car, bus and train, the passport requirement kicks in at midnight on Dec. 31, 2007.   Frequent travelers who already have Nexus cards will be able to travel as usual.

Fearing that the passport requirement will present a barrier to American tourists visiting Canada, tourism organizations have stepped up a marketing campaign to ensure all potential visitors know of the requirement, and to make it easier for them to get a passport.

Tourism Whistler currently has a link to a page explaining the new requirement, and has created a postcard explaining the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. As well, reservation centres like Whistler.com and travel agents are taking additional steps to inform guests booking their vacations.

Nobody knows how the changes might affect tourism to Canada or Whistler, although according to a recent article in the New York Times travel section only 27 per cent of Americans currently have passports. Furthermore, the cost of acquiring passports might be prohibitive for some families.

A U.S. passport is available for $97 for adults and $82 for children under 16. One family that booked a cruise saw their bill for a three-day Mexican cruise increase by over $1,186 U.S. when they factored in the cost of buying passports for eight adults and five children.

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