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Despite new regulations, land travelers to Mexico don't need passports

The Western Hemispheric Travel Initiative will introduce its first phase this month, requiring passports for all air travel into Mexico, as well as Canada, Panama and the Caribbean.

"I don't think the air-travel provisions are going to have any impact at all," said Ron Raposa, public relations officer with the Rosarito Convention and Visitors Bureau. Raposa is more concerned with potential confusion visitors may have with the regulations, thinking passports are required for land or sea travel.

This change in travel-document requirements, to begin Jan. 23, is the result of recommendations made by the 9-11 Commission. Congress then passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act in 2004, to be implemented in two phases. In June 2009, travelers by land and sea also will be required to show passports to enter Mexico, Canada, Panama and the Caribbean.

"There seems to be a lot of confusion over when various regulations take effect," he said

Raposa said area hotels are sending out information to visitors to assure them passports are not needed unless they choose to travel by plane.

"What we're trying to do is get every (hotel) to put something on their Web sites," said Gabriel Robles, president of the Baja Resort Developers Association. Robles added that hotels have seen cancellations due to confusion over whether or not a passport is required to cross the border.

Robles noted almost none of Rosarito's visitors come by plane.

"We're trying to get people (to realize) that nothing has changed," he said.

Hugo Torres, owner of the Rosarito Beach Hotel, said his hotel's tourism and convention committee will be meeting with the Baja California State Secretary of Tourism to coordinate a campaign, starting with an announcement on every hotel Web site, clarifying the requirements. When further regulations are put in place in 2009, Torres plans to have a larger, more visible campaign.

"We will eventually do (print) advertising," he said.

On the U.S. side, Milburn Holmes, president of Grey Eagle Aviation, runs a company that specializes in flying Americans to Baja and the western coast of Mexico. He said his business will not be affected because his clients are usually people who regularly travel by air and usually have a passport already.

"It's going to affect, initially, the air transportation," Holmes said. "Ultimately, people will get used to it. They will make an effort to get a passport if they want to travel by air."

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