Federal efforts focus on new US passport rules

WASHINGTON: Extensive media and public outreach on new US passport regulations is expected to continue as the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other federal agencies work to inform travelers about new rules for traveling between the US and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean.

WASHINGTON: Extensive media and public outreach on new US passport regulations is expected to continue as the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other federal agencies work to inform travelers about new rules for traveling between the US and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean.

Following the implementation on January 23 of new rules requiring visitors to carry passports while traveling to the US by air, the next steps of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) will set similar requirements for visitors arriving or leaving by land or sea.

However, the exact date when the requirements take effect and the possible availability of biometric cards used as passport alternatives make planning communications difficult, noted CBP public affairs specialist Kelly Klundt.

"From a communications standpoint, until that final rule is published, we don't have a hard date for the new land and sea entry rules, except that it's sometime between now and June 2009," Klundt said.

To ensure travelers were aware of the new rules for air travel to and from the US, public affairs representatives at the CBP, the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, and the Commerce Department's Office of Travel and Tourism Industries coordinated tactics to talk with the media. Efforts included airport press conferences, arranging speeches by officials to trade associations, and developing other public outreach, including a State Department-sponsored ticker-tape message in New York's Times Square.

Before the new air rules took effect, CBP officers at airports handed out tear sheets with related information, as did the US Postal Service at its roughly 9,000 passport application locations.

On behalf of the CBP, Washington-based Maya Advertising & Communications on January 25 managed a bilingual SMT featuring CBP commissioner Ralph Basham, who held interviews with 21 radio and TV stations.

Rick Webster, VP of government affairs for the Travel Industry Association, noted that airlines have also worked to inform passengers about the WHTI - running notices on in-flight video screens, for instance - and said that, overall, the traveling public has been well-informed about the new rules.

But of the roughly 422 million US border crossings last year, about 300 million came by land. Explaining the rules to this much larger group will be more difficult, Webster said.

"Trying to explain what their options are, what it's going to cost, and get them prepared in advance to do it - it's going to be a real challenge," Webster said.

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