The implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) has taken more twists and turns than a good spy novel.  Unraveling the mystery and painting a clear picture for today’s traveler continues to be a central focus for Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates.  The next important travel deadline is January 31, 2008, when United States citizens will need to present either a WHTI-compliant document, or a government-issued photo ID plus proof of citizenship for all land and sea travel.

“The good news is that consumers are finally realizing the importance and, in many cases, the necessity of having a passport,” stated Roger E. Block, CTC, executive vice president of the Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associate Division.  “In the last year and a half, statistically we’ve seen a nearly 25% jump of our experts saying a ‘majority’ of their customers carry a valid passport.  Those stating ‘nearly all’ of their customers have a valid passport has climbed from 3.9% in the fall of 2006 to 18.8% this month.”

Jan ‘08                  Aug ’07                 Jan ‘07                  Aug ‘06
Nearly all of my customers carry valid passports           18.8%                     11.8%                     9.7%                       3.9%
A majority of my customers carry valid passports         56.6%                     46.3%                     44.0%                     31.7%
A minority of my customers carry valid passports        5.6%                       15.4%                     15.4%                     19.8%
Very few of my customers carry valid passports            0.7%                       1.0%                       3.5%                       7.5%

“However, there is still more that can and needs to be done.  As the U.S. government continues to change, amend and delay certain deadlines, it is completely understandable why the traveling public is confused and frustrated,” continued Block.  “Cruise and ferry passengers, along with those traveling across the U.S. border by land, have a bit more time before passports are mandatory, but based on the long processing delays faced in 2007 and the inevitability of needing a passport in the future, we continue to strongly urge travelers to apply for a passport today, rather than tomorrow or sometime in the future.”

The U.S. Department of State issued just over six million U.S. passports during the 1997 fiscal year. Last year that figure rose to approximately 18 million.  Last year the normal processing time for documents ballooned from 4-6 weeks to a high of 16 weeks, though it’s now back to normal.  The State Department is estimating the number of passport applications could rise to between 23 and 26 million in 2008.

All international air travelers – including those to and from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean – have been required to present a valid passport to enter or re-enter the U.S. as of January 23, 2007.  Cruise, ferry, small boat and land border-crossings by U.S. adults will require one of the following as of January 31, 2008:

· A U.S. Passport

·  A Passport Card – this new, limited-use, wallet-sized document will be valid only for land and sea travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean.  Applications will be accepted starting February 1, 2008, with applicants expected to receive their cards beginning in late spring 2008.

· A government-issued photo ID (such as a driver’s license) plus proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

· Other accepted travel documents: SENTRI, NEXUS, FAST, a valid Merchant Mariner Document (MMD) when traveling in conjunction with official maritime business; or a valid U.S. Military identification card when traveling on official orders.

Children under the age of 16, and children 18-and-under traveling in designated groups, will only be required to present a certified copy of their birth certificate.  Verbal declarations of citizenship or any documents other than those mentioned above will not meet the new border control standards.  All travelers entering or re-entering the U.S., including those via land and sea, will be required to present a valid passport by June 1, 2009.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates throughout the United States have been at the leading edge of counseling their clients to apply for passports as early as two years ago. Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates also have worked directly with the U.S. Postal Service, as well as reputable passport/visa application services like CIBT, and even Members of Congress in simplifying and expediting the processes for their clients.