Irritable border syndrome: the impact of security on travel across the Canada-U.S. border.

AuthorBradbury, Susan L.
PositionP. 1-31 - Report


The events of September 11, 2001 directly affected commerce and travel across the United States, Canada and many other countries throughout the world. All trade and traffic between the United States and Canada came to a standstill as the border closed for approximately 24 hours and all civilian air traffic was grounded for two days (Goodrich, 2002). Recognizing the economic importance and need to keep the Canada-U.S. border open, as well as secure, the two countries worked cooperatively to produce the Smart Border Accord, signed on December 12, 2001. This accord includes a 32-point action plan that focuses on security while facilitating the movement of people and goods across the border (Government of Canada, 2001). Since then, other security measures have been implemented, such as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which has raised even more concerns about the impact of security on the movement of people across the Canada-U.S. border (Abelson and Wood, 2007; Alden, 2008; Canadian Chamber of Commerce, 2009; Conference Board of Canada, 2005; Sands, 2009; Muller, 2010). While much of the research to date has focused on the impact of increased border security on trade (Goldfarb and Robson, 2003; MacPherson et al., 2006; Canadian Chamber of Commerce, 2009; Globerman and Storer, 2009; Bradbury, 2010), little attention has been paid on the impact of security measures on movement of people across the Canada-U.S. border (Abelson and Wood, 2007; Alden, 2008; Conference Board of Canada, 2005).

Although several researchers have examined the impact of 9/11 on the tourism industry, most have either limited their focus to the U.S. (Goodrich, 2002; Bonham, Edmonds and Mak, 2006; Gut and Jarrell, 2007) or the airline industry (Ready and Dobie, 2003; Lee, Oh and O'Leary, 2005; Rupp, Holmes and DeSimone, 2005; Blunk, Clark and McGibany, 2006). Not surprisingly, demand for travel is highly susceptible to shocks such as incidents of terrorism, economic fluctuations, currency instability, natural disasters, or incidents of contagious disease (Bonham, Edmonds and Mak, 2006; Ritchie, Molinar and Frechtling, 2010). However, even less significant effects can also impact travel, such as the perceived "hassle" of crossing the border, longer wait times at the border, the need to obtain a visa, weather issues, or even traffic congestion (Timothy, 1995; Timothy and Tosun, 2003; Nyaupane and Andereck, 2008).

The purpose of this study is to examine how various changes implemented at the Canada-U.S. border have impacted the movement of people across the border. Several researchers have commented on the "thickening" of the border--a term that refers to both the physical modifications and policy measures that have occurred since 9/11. Specifically, this study will evaluate the impact of security measures, including the effect of the WHTI, on travel and tourism across the Canada-U.S. border. In doing so this study will examine the influence of other factors, such as exchange rates and gasoline prices, as well as assess the impact of other policies such as the NEXUS program, on cross border travel. In addition, the study will examine how all these factors affect what is occurring at the local level by examining the situation at the six busiest border ports along the Canada-U.S. border. Prior to this analysis, the article will review how borders influence tourism, briefly discuss the history of the Canada-U.S. border, and detail the relatively recent policy initiatives, such as the WHTI and NEXUS before outlining the study's methodology.


International borders and boundaries have been found to influence tourism in two distinct ways--positively and negatively (Knowles and Matthiessen, 2009; Smith, 1984; Timothy, 1995; Timothy and Tosun, 2003). Borders can serve as barriers that negatively influence the flow of tourists (Knowles and Matthiessen, 2009; Timothy and Tosun, 2003). International borders delineate the sovereign boundaries between nation-states and are physically designated in some manner. In certain cases, actual fences, barriers, towers, floodlights and surveillance equipment mark the border. In other situations, the border is more inconspicuous, identified with markers, flags, and simple checkpoints. The condition of the border often, although not always, indicates the nature of the relationship between the two countries and the relative permeability of the border. More fortified borders typically indicate that the relationship between the two countries is either hostile, or that one country desires to control the movement of people into or out of the country. The amount of fortification also influences the degree to which people perceive the border as a barrier (Timothy and Tosun, 2003).

The extent to which a border acts as a barrier or an attraction is determined by a number of factors. These include the degree of economic, socio-cultural, and political difference present on opposite sides of the border, and the perceptions and experiences of travelers and potential travelers about what lies on either side of the border (Knowles and Matthiessen, 2009; Timothy and Tosun, 2003). Economic factors include differentials in cross-border prices for goods and services, currency values, and the level of taxation, such as sales tax. Cultural factors include differences in language, customs, art, music or sports, while political factors include border formalities. Severe border policies and restrictions, along with extensive border formalities can discourage people from crossing. Examples of these policies include departure taxes, passport and visa requirements, currency exchange, and customs controls (Ascher, 1984; Knowles and Matthiessen, 2009).

Related to these factors is how people perceive these differences and the border procedures and formalities that they encounter. While not all borders represent real deterrents to travel, they may act as barriers based upon people's perception of them (Knowles and Matthiessen, 2009; Timothy and Tosun, 2003). In fact, research has shown that even relatively inconspicuous borders such as the Canada-U.S. border can produce profound psychological effects for some travelers (Slowe, 1994; Timothy and Tosum, 2003). This is because borders clearly identify when someone is crossing from familiar into unfamiliar (or less familiar) locations (Hopkins and Dixon, 2006). For many people, traveling to unfamiliar or exotic places is appealing, part of the desire and excitement associated with traveling (Timothy, 1995). For others, crossing an international boundary results in feelings of uneasiness, fear, and loss of control (Timothy, 2001). Where border formalities are minimal, the border is less likely to be seen as a barrier. However, in cases where entry procedures are more arduous, the border is more likely seen as a barrier, thus something to be avoided. The range of perceptions can be considerable among various groups of people (Knowles and Matthiessen, 2009). Some travelers take border procedures in stride, considering them as something necessary in order to cross the border. Some see them more as a nuisance, while others may view them as intimidating and frightening (Timothy and Tosun, 2003).


What we know today as the Canada-U.S. border was established through a series of treaties beginning with the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and concluding with the Oregon Boundary Dispute between Great Britain and the United States in 1846. The border between the two countries has long been heralded as the "longest undefended border" in the world (Thompson and Randall, 1994). Throughout the past 150 years the border was regarded as open and for the most part served as little more than a symbolic line that distinguished one country from the other. Over time, however, the border became more entrenched as an economic barrier' with the establishment of tariffs between the two countries in the late nineteenth century (Granatstein and Hillmer, 1991). Despite these policies, the border between Canada and the U.S. has remained very permeable, enabling the easy flow of goods and people between the two countries and establishing the largest bilateral trading relationship in the world (Government of Canada, 2011a). In 1989 the passage of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the subsequent 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) enhanced this relationship creating a more economically open border. The establishment of free trade not only led to the removal of tariffs for goods and services, expanding trade between the two countries, but it also resulted in a perceptual change as well (Bradbury and Turbeville, 1998). For travelers the border was viewed as less restrictive than it had been in the past. Agreements such as the Shared Border Accord of 1995 further supported this perception as the two countries worked to create the "the most efficient border in the world" (Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 1996, p. 1).

However, the events of September 11, 2001 resulted in a number of significant policy changes concerning the border and its operations. No longer was the focus on creating an efficient border; rather security became the foremost priority. The Smart Border Accord of 2001 contains a number of security measures and programs that were designed to ensure security while facilitating the movement of goods and people across the border. However, many agencies and researchers have begun to question whether these new security measures are too severe and are actually hampering cross border travel (Conference Board of Canada, 2005; Canadian Chamber of Commerce, 2009; Sands, 2009). Recently, other security measures have been added, such as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which has raised even more concerns about the impact of security measures on the movement of people across the...

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