Crossing into Canada means attention to detail

By Eron Shosteck

Close cooperation and open communications between American and Canadian members of the motorcoach, tour and travel industries are more important today than ever as people slowly start traveling again for leisure across all regions of North America.

As the recession recedes and travelers resume taking summer vacations, they will likely start by taking more affordable trips closer to home. Instead of jetting to Paris, they’ll climb aboard a motorcoach tour to Quebec City, the only walled city in North America, as an alternative destination. Quebec City offers more than four centuries of historical attractions. The city is a dead ringer for Paris — minus the Eiffel Tower.

Border crossing issues, therefore, are going to be increasingly an area of focus for operators – especially when you add in the new document requirements resulting from the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and post 9/11 security issues. This is such a critical issue that a study about the effects of the terrorist attacks is underway to gauge the extent to which U.S.-Canadian border security measures have made crossings harder, possibly hurting tourism.

Decline in volume of vehicles

The Binational Economic and Tourism Alliance study is aimed at determining if increased security measures have caused the drop in activity in the Niagara Region and, if so, what measures can be taken to make the crossing easier while keeping the border secure. Since the attacks, there’s been a decline in the volume of vehicles crossing the U.S.-Canadian border in the Niagara region, and its four bridges that link New York State and Ontario. The study’s final report and remedial implementation plan is slated for delivery by December 2010.

Then there are the details of border security that are vital to bus tour customer satisfaction. Motor Coach Canada recently reported that U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) officers at the Detroit-Windsor crossing have advised drivers and tour escorts that passengers should refrain from locking their suitcases, as travelers are responsible to present all goods for inspection, and a locked bag can interfere with the process in which travelers are asked to open any locked items or compartments.

In the rare event unaccompanied bags are locked, CPB has the authority to cut or break the lock to perform inspections. CPB officers at the land border crossings do not carry keys for the “TSA airport-approved locks” that some travelers use on their suitcases. Canada’s Border Services Agency said their policy on baggage locks is identical to the U.S. policy. Coach and tour operators should advise passengers in advance of travel that baggage locks are not advisable for the portion of the journey that includes a border crossing.

Secure Certificate of Indian Status

The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), in a partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, has a new form of identification — the Secure Certificate of Indian Status (SCIS). The SCIS cards, distributed since late 2009, are acceptable as stand alone WHTI-compliant documents for entry into the U.S. SCIS cards will only be issued to Canadian First Nations People. When a First Nations traveler presents the card, other documentation isn’t required.

CBSA and CBP worked to ensure that SCIS cards are secure, tamper resistant, and easy to identify.The card contains a machine-readable zone and multiple layers of overt, covert, and forensic security features. This is another example of vital information for operators who cross borders regularly.

ABA has always maintained close ties with Motor Coach Canada and the Ontario Motor Coach Association. With the new WHTI regulations, heightened border security alert status, and other developments affecting bus and tour operators and their customers who cross from the Stars & Stripes to the Maple Leaf, strengthening these ties is more important than ever.

Eron Shosteck is senior vice president, communications, American Bus Association, Washington D.C. []

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