Passport regulation complicates already low American travel to Canada - Metro US

Passport regulation complicates already low American travel to Canada

David Tetrault has noticed a 50 per cent drop in business at his bed and breakfast in Niagara Falls, Ont., this year and he estimates a chunk of that is the result of new passport regulations at the Canada-U.S. border.

“Our business is probably 30 per cent less just because of the passport issue alone,” says Tetrault, owner of the Niagara Inn Bed and Breakfast.

“We had people who came in May who said, ‘Oh we’re not planning to get one (passport), so we’re coming now.’ “

It’s a trend that tourism operators say they have also experienced.

Randy Williams, president of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, says the number of Americans visiting Canada is at a more than 30-year low.

Some of that is related to the economy and other factors, but he doesn’t think the new U.S. passport rules have helped.

“We’re at the lowest level at any time since 1972,” Williams says. “The American traffic has been an issue for seven or eight years, constantly dwindling.”

As of June 1, anyone travelling into the United States, or Americans returning home via land or sea ports, have been required to produce a passport or other acceptable form of identification, such as a NEXIS card or an enhanced driver’s licence.

Surveys indicate about 30 per cent of Americans owned passports prior to the new regulation, and Williams said there has been little change since the deadline passed.

In Canada, that’s not the case.

Sebastien Bois of Passport Canada says the number of Canadians who have been getting their passports since the start of the year has grown.

As of July 1, he said 56.2 per cent of Canadians were passport holders, an increase of three per cent. Bois says most Canadians were prepared for the change and the number of applications has been steady.

Tetrault says the biggest impact is in last-minute travel, because the planning and time to get a passport has eliminated any spontaneity.

But not everyone has noticed a decline in travel since the new rules came into effect.

For instance, the drop in the number of Americans using the ferry between Bar Harbor, Maine, and Yarmouth, N.S., isn’t as bad as expected. George Driscoll, vice-president of marketing and sales for Bay Ferries, says a survey of possible travellers in the New England states last fall indicated about 30 per cent of them did not have passports.

Williams says most of the damage from passport changes that have been implemented over the last three years arises from confusion over the rules.

But he believes there may be a silver lining in the changes as well because reducing the number of acceptable documents should reduce wait times at the border. The change was also made, Williams says, at a time when traffic was already slow from the United States.

U.S. border guards have been lenient so far with travellers who don’t have their passports.

Still, Joanne Ferreira of the United States Customs and Border Patrol says compliance has been very high.

“Travellers are showing up with their approved documents and those that do not have their approved documents, we’re still in that flexible period of time, and we’re not denying entry as long as they are admissible and we can confirm their identity and citizenship,” she says from Washington.

“It’s still the summer travel season, so we’re being flexible … and I don’t have a specific date as to when that will change.”

Even if more Americans start getting passports, Williams says he doesn’t see the percentage of Americans who hold the documents rising beyond the range of 45 to 50 per cent.

He says the percentage of Canadians with passports will always be higher because as a northern country, Canadians head south for warm weather in the winter.

And while the number of Americans coming to Canada is low, Williams says the Canadian tourism industry faces other pressures in attracting visitors from south of the border.

The Travel Promotion Act, a bill that would involve the U.S. government in travel promotion through a non-profit corporation, could present challenges for Canada.

“The U.S., on a national basis, has never marketed itself before, it always left it up to its states and cities,” Williams says.

But Williams says the Canadian brand is strong and he’s confident the industry will improve as the economy recovers.

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