By Clare Ogilvie
With only days to go before new U.S. regulations come into effect requiring everyone entering that country by air to have a passport Canadians are lining up to get passports in record numbers, and the tourism industry is holding its breath in anticipation of the fallout from the changes.
“Our main concern is that it is another barrier to people choosing Canada as a destination,” said Ray LeBlond, spokesman for Tourism B.C.
“Tourism can be sometimes a path of least resistance and anything that makes it more difficult to choose a place in a competitive environment is a big concern.”
As of Jan. 23 the air portion of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) comes into effect, making it mandatory for all travelers entering the United States by air to have a valid passport or a “Trusted Traveller” NEXUS air card. Phase two of the changes, which affect land and sea travel in and out of the U.S., will come into effect sometime between January 2008 and June 2009 after an extension was put in place by the American government.
The United States has always been a significant market for Whistler and with that in mind Tourism Whistler decided to carry out research in California and Oregon on possible effects of the changes.
President Barrett Fisher said the results indicated that there would be less impact on the California market as many of those destination travellers, already used to international travel, have passports.
However, she said, the drive-market from Washington State may be impacted, with 23 per cent of those questioned saying they were less likely to travel if they needed a passport to do so.
Tourism Whistler is facing the challenge head on by getting as much educational material into the marketplace as possible on the changes and looking at marketing to combat it.
“Our role has really been about communication, and education with our existing client base and then also getting the message out to potential visitors,” said Fisher.
“Our bigger concern is about the day and weekend drive market. (But) with the extension (on land and sea border regulations) we have at least a year if not longer to get the information out.
“We believe we still have time to raise awareness and grow the profile of this important issue in these markets.”
Americans have long been able to travel to the Caribbean and return home without a passport. They will no longer be able to do that after Jan. 23 so many hotels in the Caribbean and Mexico are offering rebates to American guests, who will have to pay $97 to get a first passport.