By Clare Ogilvie
US rules that would have made it a requirement for travelers to have a passport to cross land borders may be delayed until June, 1 2009.
“That is definitely wonderful news,” said Tourism Whistler spokeswoman Michele Comeau-Thompson.
“One thing that has been indicated through some of the research that we have done is that we believe the largest impact to business in Whistler surrounding the new passport legislation would be from Washington state visitors, which we all know is such a huge part of our visitor room nights and those are the people who will be traveling by land, so this is a significant change.”
The more time the resort and its travel partners have to inform visitors of the new rules and to work within them the better, she said.
It’s clear already, said Comeau-Thompson, that travelers do not always know the ins and outs of the new U.S. travel rules and it may already be impacting travel.
“The more time that we have to prepare and the more time we have to educate visitors the better,” she said.
“One of the biggest issues with this new legislation has been the confusion around the date and a lot of things have changed since the original announcement was made.”
Under the U.S. government’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative Canadian and American travelers entering the U.S. by air will need a passport or other secure document by Jan.1, 2007. The same restriction was to come into effect for land crossings a year later, but the deadline is now expected to be extended to June 1, 2009.
The delay flows from a tentative agreement reached by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Previously only the U.S. Senate had favoured a delay in the WHTI.
Ever since the initiative was passed by Congress in 2004 all levels of governments in Canada, tourism related officials and cross border businesses have been voicing concerns about how the rules would impact their sectors.
The proposed delay is included in a $34.8 billion U.S. Homeland Security appropriations bill that is now headed for a final vote before the House of Representatives and Senate later this week.
Currently Canadians entering the U.S. must prove their identity and citizenship, frequently by producing just their birth certificate and driver’s license.
In order to meet the U.S. demands some Canadian officials have proposed the creation of a high-tech driver’s license with enhanced security features and biometrics.