2005: Newsmakers - Pack passports for golf trips to U.S. neighbors

Beginning Jan. 1, U.S. visitors to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean will need a passport to gain re-entry home. Until the new security measure takes effect, a driver’s license and birth certificate are sufficient. Golfers who plan to tee it up in a neighboring nation should take note of the new protocol starting next year.

Some golf travel industry insiders in the affected countries say the measure, initiated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, shouldn’t be a major stumbling block in the quest to attract American visitors as long as the tourists are aware of new regulations.

“Golf travelers tend to book in advance and tend to be more educated than most general travelers,” said Jim Lee, executive director of the Canadian Golf Tourism Alliance, a consortium with client courses throughout the country. “We just have to make sure that when they book, we tell them a passport is necessary.

“The interest in traveling is still there, and I don’t think people will avoid traveling to Canada just because they have to get a passport. It might cause some problems for the last-minute traveler, but that will be taken care of as people become aware of the requirement and get used to the idea.”

Canada has had some unique travel challenges in recent years. Golf courses seeking U.S. visitors have had to deal with the consequences of Sept. 11, 2001, like all other travel-related businesses, but there also has been the SARS scare and poor weather that affected the 2004 season in some parts of the country.

“Canada continues to be a great place to play golf,” Lee said. “That fact doesn’t change.”

Rather than hindering golf travelers, the new regulation could be viewed favorably by tourists, according to Richard Kahn of Kahn Travel Communications, a marketing and communications firm based in New York that has several Caribbean golf resort clients.

“Our research shows that a great proportion of golf travelers already have passports,” Kahn said. “The passport requirement actually is a positive thing. Our clients are interested in security, too.”

Kahn, however, acknowledged that it adds another facet to his company’s responsibility. “Of course, part of our job is to make sure that the U.S. golf traveler is aware of the requirement,” he said. “As far as I can tell, that’s the main impact it will have on us.”

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