Congress has extended a controversial Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative deadline by 17 months, making June 1, 2009 the new deadline by which people traveling via land or sea from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Mexico, and Canada must have a passport, or other accepted document, to enter, or re-enter, the United States. A January 8, 2007 deadline requiring passports for people traveling via air still stands.

This could be challenging for planners as a fairly small percentage of Americans carry passports — about 25 percent, according to the U.S. State Department. But Patricia Kerr, CMP, director, distribution sales support for Manulife Financial of Ontario, Canada, says that while her colleagues in the U.S. have some genuine concerns about their attendees' readiness when it comes to passports, the same is not true in Canada. “Canadians by and large are much more likely to have a passport,” Kerr notes.

Planners based in the U.S. are gearing up for the new requirement. “We have already started communicating the need for passports for our Sierra Conference in Montreal in July, 2007,” says Lynn Schwandt, CMP, senior event planner for Appleton, Wis.-based Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. Schwandt says her staff has been communicating directly with the field staff, as well as through the company intranet, giving them links for passport applications. “Once we know [in early January] who the qualifiers are for this conference, we'll be sending a mass e-mail to remind them that a passport will be required for travel,” she says.

Passport Card Proposed

On October 17, the U.S. State Department proposed a passport card that can be used for travel by U.S. citizens through land and sea ports of entry between the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. The wallet-sized card would cost $10 for children and $20 for adults, plus a $25 execution fee. According to the State Department, the card itself would not contain any personal information, but would include RFID technology to link the card to a secure government database containing biographical information and a photograph. Go to www.state.gov for more information on the proposed passcard or on applying for a conventional passport.