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Tourism Whistler on the border

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Successful opening weekend followed by long waits for Americans returning home

Concerns about long border waits have prompted Tourism Whistler to lobby U.S Customs.

"On Monday, after (U.S.) Thanksgiving weekend, we were on the phone to all our U.S Customs and Consulate contacts and what we are looking at is proactively ensuring that they understand this is an issue," said Barrett Fisher, Tourism Whistler?s vice president of marketing strategy and business development.

"What we have committed to is that we, as Tourism Whistler, will communicate with Customs to provide them with key travel times when typically the border will be busy.

"We are trying to... provide them with a schedule to say this is where we need your support."

Customs, in return, have said they will try and move extra staff to work on those days highlighted as busy times by Tourism Whistler.

And Customs has told Fisher that they will keep in touch about their own staffing levels to help Whistler with its planning.

The Canadian and American governments have committed money for extra resources to keep border traffic moving smoothly. But, said Fisher, it is likely there will be at least four to six months of lag time before extra staff make a real impact on the crossings.

Last Sunday, as Americans returned home from the long weekend, U.S. Customs had five new officers working the borders but there was still a three to three and a half hour wait to get back into Washington State. All crossings were fully staffed.

Part of the reason for that was higher than expected volume.

"Certainly that was a spike at the end of the long weekend when you had a lot of people coming back at the end of a long weekend," said Customs spokeswoman Cherise Miles.

The combination of the opening of the ski season at Whistler-Blackcomb, the U.S. long weekend, and the low Canadian dollar, which is attracting American Christmas shoppers, all contributed to the wait said Miles.

"We have to look at it and work out something that we can do for the next time to alleviate the wait times."

Over and above the discussions with U.S. Customs, Tourism Whistler is also working with the hotels and Whistler-Blackcomb to offer some packages which would encourage people to return home on days other than Sunday.

Deals night be offered in which customers checking out on Monday would get deals on skiing or other activities.

And, said Fisher, different transportation packages are also being looked into.

"We are looking at train and bus packages with people travelling to Vancouver on Amtrak then taking the bus to Whistler," said Fisher.

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