12 JUN 2019: The US Travel Association feels your pain, with the organization acknowledging that long wait times for visitors entering the US is annoying and disruptive and that a recent redeployment of customs and security officials to the Mexico border (including 731 from the northern Canadian border alone) further threatens to “result in turmoil for business and leisure travel” during the busy summer travel season.

The USTA has called for additional government funding to ensure the “functionality” of US Customs Border and Protection (CBP) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA), with executive VP of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Barnes adding, “further system-wide reforms are needed to ensure the full functionality of these crucial agencies. We urge the administration and Congress to immediately engage in a thorough and intensive discussion about appropriate resourcing for all of the Department of Homeland Security’s vital functions in the face of current challenges.”

At the recent IPW travel trade show in California, USTA president and CEO Roger Dow assured delegates, “We know all too well the cost of excessively long entry and security lines. Since we have been here, I have heard from many of you that your time spent at US customs has been unacceptably long. I want you to know, I hear you!”

Dow told those in attendance at the Anaheim show that the USTA is using “information gathered from valuable and experienced travellers such as yourselves” to help identify the issues that should be raised to the US government.

“I want to inform you that we are now in the process of seeking data on customs wait times from our major airport members. And we have activated a dialogue on this issue with the appropriate government agencies. We will continue to make our concerns heard when there is evidence that our entry process is lagging.”

Elliott L. Ferguson, national chair of the USTA, notes that lengthy customs wait times, as well as visa processes, “take a toll” and are detrimental not just to visitors, but the US economy as well. Moreover, they are “unacceptable,” he says. “We want people to come here, and we have been working with officials in Washington to cut down on wait times and to make the visa system more efficient and less burdensome, keeping it secure and efficient.”

As for the current situation on the southern border, Dow said, “As soon as we heard the reports (about redeploying staff there), US Travel immediately activated around this issue… We made it clear to the administration that resources should not be diverted away from airports or other points of entry.”

But Dow is quick to point out that proactive steps to keep America’s borders flowing are ongoing, citing, for example, an expanding customs pre-clearance program, which currently features 15 locations in six countries (including Canada) and which could add new countries “very soon.”

Also, CBP has in the past year been moving to make biometric entry-exit screening “a system-wide reality,” including its initial introduction at Orlando International Airport.

“I’m proud to say the US leads the world in this cutting-edge technology,” Dow says. “It helps security officials keep track of who is coming and going and makes travel both more secure and more efficient. The use of biometrics to screen passengers is steadily spreading throughout the US aviation system. US Travel is championing this new technology.”

And with wait times for visas similarly increasing (especially in China), Dow notes that systemic back-steps are nothing new.

“US Travel has succeeded in spurring government action to reduce wait times before,” he says. “And if these problems are recurring, we will activate our resources to do so again.”

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Michael Baginski

Editor, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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