WWUstudy predicts impact of passport initiative

Published on Thu, Jan 19, 2006 by ara Nelson

Read More News

WWU study predicts impact of passport initiative

By Tara Nelson

When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its plans to push for legislation that would require all visitors to the United States to possess a passport, some Whatcom County business owners worried it could result in a reduction in tourism and spending – and they might be right, according to a study by the Border Policy Research Institute (BPRI) at Western Washington University.
The study, released January 8, studied the possible impact of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) on visits by automobile to Washington state by Canadians and found that the expense and inconvenience of obtaining a passport is likely to harm tourism in Whatcom County. Presumably, the results would also apply to the PASS document, announced this Tuesday.

Hit especially hard by the new proposal would likely be border towns such as Blaine, Lynden and Sumas, that rely more heavily on Canadians who work, shop, visit and engage in recreation there.

Out of the nearly 48 million crossings from Canada into the United States, 75 percent of those individuals travel no farther than Bellingham, the study found. Using those numbers, it is estimated that Whatcom County – including Point Roberts – is the destination for as many as 2.2 million auto trips per year by Canadians, who spend an average of $38 per person during a typical day visit while Canadian overnight visitors spend approximately $170 per trip.

In 2004, spending by Canadians was estimated at $358 million. A three percent drop in overall visitor spending is likely to reduce that number by roughly $10 million.

Other forms of transportation impacted by the WHTI may include air travel, freight shipping, the Alaska cruise industry, school field trips and other special-case travel.

David Davidson, project director for the BPRI and author of the study, said the new law could also have a significant impact on the Point Roberts community because many residents there bus their children to school in Blaine, as well as the many other families of American students who attend school in Canada, and companies that base their business model on cross-border tourism such as the Victoria/San Juan Cruise business in Bellingham.

“Three percent might not seem like a lot, but when you’re talking about small businesses, that’s not anything to lightly dismiss,” he said. “That’s a social level of disruption.”

Drew Schmidt, owner Victoria /San Juan Cruises, a charter that boats tourists from Bellingham to Victoria, B.C., and San Juan Islands, said he has already seen a drop in cross-border tours.

“Our trips to Vicotorial this summer simply after the announcement of the passport requirement, had dropped 18 percent,” he said. “We attribute that all to the news about the passport requirement even though it’s not in affect yet.”

Schmidt said he would like to see a citizenship-based drivers license such as the REAL-ID that some states already use. This, he hopes, would inspire Canadian government officials to do the same.The flip side, he said is that many Americans who previously may have chosen to grocery shop in Canada, may limit the amount of trips or choose to shop more at home.

Homeland security spokesman Jared Agen, when asked if DHS had considered the economic impact to border communities, said they have not. Agen said while economic feasibility is part of DHS’s long-term strategy, in the short term, the agency is simply looking at ways to implement the law congress passed in 2004. “We understand there’s a need for alternatives out there,” he said. “But we’re working against the deadline in order to meet the law that congress has passed.”No currently existing documents other than the BCC, SENTRI, NEXUS or FAST cards are under active consideration as substitutes for the passport. However, administration officials are reviewing new technological developments regarding options for secure travel documents.