Niagara Gazette


March 5, 2007

BORDER ISSUES: Securing the border

Officials tout passport plan, examine alternatives at tourism summit


While proudly displaying her NEXUS card, Mary Mahon Jones of the Canadian Council of Tourism Associations said improvements are needed to the system. The resident of the province of British Columbia called for a family fee program to offer discounts and the expansion renewal requirements from five years to 10 years, among other initiatives.

Another alternative being discussed is a pilot driver’s license program in Washington state and British Columbia. The idea would be to create a license with adequate personal and citizenship identification to allow the holder to use his or her license to cross the border, Goatbe said. Michigan, Ontario and the Yukon territory in northwestern Canada — which borders Alaska — are also interested in starting such a program, he said.

While the transition to passports may be definite, the questions surrounding a firm starting date and the fight by some in Congress against the move have left tourists wondering whether they can cross the border now. Allen James, a public affairs official with Niagara Falls State Park, said he’s come across numerous travelers from Ohio, Pennsylvania and other points south that have changed plans to travel to the region because of the perceived need of a passport. In addition, the time involved with getting a passport (applications take several months to process) make spontaneous vacations to the area less frequent.

“The culture in travel ... has changed,” he said.

Nay doesn’t see this as an impossible dilemma to overcome, however. More than 74 million Americans (28 percent) already own a passport, he said, with 1.1 million passport applications being received in November alone. He encouraged anyone else who crosses the border to act now to avoid the rush that will come next fall.

“The decision’s been made,” he said. “Get a passport.”

The three-day summit concludes with a series of workshops this morning.

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