US war on Iraq likely to affect Whistler 

The drums of war echo even in Whistler.

"There is no doubt that it is a huge concern for the resort," Barrett Fisher, vice president marketing strategy and business development at Tourism Whistler, said Wednesday.

"Our only hope is that if and when war does break out that it is a short-lived crisis so that the world and specifically our tourist customers can move beyond this and move forward."

With war looming Tourism Whistler will continue marketing to regional travellers as it has done since the terrorist attacks in the fall of 2001.

That is not to say long-haul tourists and meeting planners won’t be encouraged to choose Whistler as a destination.

But history has shown that travellers are unwilling to fly or leave home in times of uncertainly, such as during a war or under threat of terrorism.

Fisher is hopeful the destination market, which includes big Easter travellers such as Mexicans and those from the UK, will be only marginally affected especially if the war is not protracted.

"The feedback… is that if it is a short-lived war then tourism and business in general will be relatively unaffected," said Fisher.

"If it is longer term concerns have been expressed that a number of industries could drop into a recession phase.

"But from our understanding, and from the reports that we have analyzed and evaluated, it is our belief that this will be a short lived war. And on that note we believe that tourism will be relatively unaffected for the mid to long term.

"But again only time will tell."

Tourism Whistler has been part of on-going discussions with Canadian and US officials on keeping the borders as free flowing as possible.

But, said Fisher, with the US raising its terrorist alert status to code orange or "high" its obvious there will be delays.

The key to the shortest travel time, barring unforeseen problems, is to be completely prepared.

"Our best recommendation is that our customers and tourists planning on travelling across the border, and our meeting planners, are well prepared with their documentation," said Fisher.

"That is not just having your driver’s licence, it is ensuring that you have your passport and anything else you need."

Canada Customs and Revenue echoed that advice.

"A passport is the best identification that you can have," said Sharon Gill of Canada Customs.

"If you don’t have a passport then photo ID like a drivers licence accompanied by a birth certificate or citizenship card will do.

"And don’t forget identification for your kids. You need their birth certificates or passports and if you are travelling with kids that are not your own you need a letter from their parents or guardians giving you permission.

"That kind of stuff people tend to forget and that can help us speed along the process.

"Travellers need patience and they need to be prepared.

Steven Grigerich, acting chief of consular services at the US Consulate in Vancouver, is encouraging travellers to sign up for the Nexus program.

"I think a lot of people were turned off to the program because they had heard initially of all the backlogs and the waits in processing," said Grigerich.

"But those backlogs are completely cleared and they are actually looking for additional applicants."

Grigerich said there is no way to tell how long heightened security at the border will continue.

"There is really no way to speculate," he said.

"Hostilities appear to be imminent with Iraq and until such time as that is resolved, and that is anybody’s guess, I can’t imagine (security levels) will go down."

Hundreds more agents have been sent to the borders by the US Homeland Security agency, but at this point there are no plans to station National Guards troops along the Canada-US border.

On Wednesday the US unveiled its plan to harden US defences against a feared terrorist attack.

Called Operation Liberty Shield, the plan calls for tighter security at airports, ports, railways, nuclear plants and crucial areas of the US food supply and distribution system.

There are also new restrictions on commercial airspace over Washington and New York and increased Coast Guard patrols near gasoline and chemical plants.

To find out more about getting in and out of Canada check the following Web sites.

• www.borderlineups.com for border wait estimates and live cams.

• www.usdot.wa.gov/regions/northwest/traffic/Bordercams for Washington state border cams.

• www.yvr.ca for arrivals, departure and delays at Vancouver International Airport.

• www.yvr.ca/currentcondition.asp for notices for US travellers.

• www.ccra-adrc.gc.ca/newsroom/releas

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