September 06, 2002 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - Border Crossing 

Security woes on world’s longest undefended border

Page 2 of 4

The optimism was curtailed abruptly, however, as American visitors complained of three and a half hour waits at the border returning home on Sunday evening.

As a town which was built on and lives by international tourism coming through the Vancouver International Airport and via the border crossings, Whistler businesses were concerned that longer waits would deter visitors from making the trip. The three-plus hour drive from Washington state to Whistler suddenly became a six hour ordeal.

"We saw incredible back-ups on the Thanksgiving long weekend, and, yes, we saw incredible back-ups at Christmas and New Year’s, but it is to my understanding that those were the last big back-ups," said Barrett Fisher, vice president of marketing strategy and business development for Tourism Whistler.

"Because they were doubling up on security, they were understaffed by 50 per cent. The borders made an investment in hiring new staff, so there was a training lag in getting those people hired, trained and up to speed. In the last six months, as far as our own spot monitoring goes, we haven’t heard of any specific challenges."

Tourism Whistler has been following the issue closely and has had meetings with border officials to see what could be done to speed things up.

"There were delays that were four to six hours, just ridiculous line-ups, and really our first concern was that absolutely was going to affect our business and certainly we had a major concern," said Fisher.

Aside from hiring more staff, the borders have also upgraded their camera technology and started a new program called NEXUS for frequent travellers – a more high tech approach to the PACE program, which was cancelled after Sept. 11.

Tourism Whistler is currently working within the B.C. Council of Tourism Associations to lobby the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency and the U.S. Customs Service to go even further with programs to speed visitors through borders and airports.

"There are programs that we have our meetings and incentives destination awareness teams working on, in regards to the NEXUS program they’ve instituted," said Fisher. "We’re just about to have discussions with border officials. For example, are there ways of streamlining the process for bringing large groups across the border by doing a pre-registration and sending them through a special line-up? These are the kinds of programs we’re looking at."

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