Thursday, May 28, 2009

New Passport Requirements Take Effect June 1

Its probably not news to anyone intimately involved in the regional tourism industry but it worth reminding everyone that the latest incarnation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative takes effect June 1, 2009.

What does that mean? Passports. Canadian residents travelling into the United States by road crossing will now be required to have a valid passport or accepted registered secure smart driver's licence to enter the United States. U.S. residents will require the same to re-enter the United States.

The date has been pushed back a couple of times and there had been hope that the new Democratic government would scrap the initiative altogether. The new regulation will undoubtedly have a short and medium term effect on border communities the most where casual day traffic will decline in both directions. However, in communities where residents depend on goods, services and employment across the border, they are more likely to get their documents.

We are entering a new era and the passport requirement will soon reach a point of equilibrium. I liken them to a flu shot in that it is a little inconvenient to go and get the application, a pic taken and a witness's signature. However, once you get one, they're one of the best documents to have. Recent increases in the numbers of both Canadian and U.S. residents applying for passports is an encouraging sign that people are getting them.

And who is getting them? People who travel is the obvious answer but more specifically, educated and avid experience seekers and these are the clients we want to market to anyway. The person who never leaves their sofa to get a passport is also the person no amount of marketing is going to likely encourage travel.

So what can you do to ensure your U.S. clients are getting their passport?

  • Send them the information on the Canadian AND U.S. requirements when they inquire or book their vacations. The Canadian Border Services Agency is always more than pleased to supply tourism partners with the forms they need.

  • Send clients the link to the U.S. and Canadian Border agency websites or better yet, put the links on your websites. They are listed here.

Canadian -

United States -

  • Read up on the regulations so you can at least answer basic questions your clients may have.
  • Offer a travel discount up to the equivalent value of their passport fee.
  • Grand Portage Lodge and Casino has taken things one step further. They have been hosting a number of sessions and taking Canadian resident's passport photos for them. Imagine booths at U.S. sports shows with passport information and photographer on the ready to make people's processes a little easier. I am not sure what the legality is of doing this in the U.S. but its worth getting the information on and reporting back on it here.
Remember, while this is an added travel challenge during tough economic times, it is inevitable and its best we respond with creative means to ensure our efforts continue to offer and market the types of experiences where the U.S. market is likely to have or willing to get a passport.

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