Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) & RFID passports

Yet another aspect of the controversial Western Hemisphere Travel Initiatives goes into effect today under which oral declarations to prove identity and citizenship will no longer be sufficient. Travelers will be asked to present certain documentation from a specified list when entering the United States at land or sea ports of entry. Prior to today, travelers at land crossings (usually the Canadian border) could enter the US by merely stating that they were US citizens. Travel by air has required the presentation of a passport since January 23rd of last year. Today’s added measure also affects citizens of Canada and Bermuda who are currently exempt from document requirements. Travelers disinclined to get a passport do have other choices such as a “passport card” and an “enhanced driver’s license” (EDL) that documents US citizenship. Some Canadian provinces are considering introducing EDLs for their citizens.

The initiatives impact on tourism are likely to abate over time as the world gets used to heightened security measures both to ward off document fraud and thwart terrorism. But some of the changes seem designed more to convey the impression of security than actually enabling it. One such change that could be of interest to hotel operators but equally to fraudsters is the RFID chip in passports. According to an article a couple of years ago in Technewsworld, a German expert pointed out that not only could the chip in the passport be hacked but it could also be cloned. Assuming that the government has got past security glitches, RFID chips can be of use in swiping information directly into the PMS systems of hotels making the registration process even quicker and eliminating data entry errors that hinder marketing efforts. Thus far no PMS or hotel company has indicated an interest in that area.

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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.