Outrigger Hotels and Resorts

Published on Thursday, April 12, 2007

Another new effort to embrace international visitors

US Customs and Border Protection, hoping to make entering the country more welcoming and less complicated for international visitors, commissioned their first model port at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

Visitors can watch on mounted television monitors a video on the customs process and peruse guides to filling out custom forms. Officers will later begin roaming the winding lines to answer questions.

"We want the world to really understand that the United States is still a welcoming nation, our borders are still open," Jeffrey Baldwin, the Department of Homeland Security's director of field operations in Houston, said at a news conference.

An initiative between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff designated the Houston airport and Washington Dulles International Airport as pilots in the effort to make the customs process easier and more efficient.

The effort will spread to the country's other major airports within five years, Mr Baldwin said.

International travel to the US went down after 9-11, but numbers are on the upswing.

"This will be a key factor in ensuring we are prepared for that growth," Mr Baldwin said.

At Bush Intercontinental, customs officials plan to select the instructional video language — projected from speakers and shown in subtitles — based on the original destination of flights that are coming in, said spokeswoman Debra Zezima. The languages available now are Spanish, French, English and German. Japanese and Arabic are in the works.

Brochures about custom forms and travel to the United States are currently available only in English, but Ms Zezima said six translations will be ready before the summer.

Travelers have complained that they don't understand the customs process, so the video, brochures, signs and roaming officers should help speed things along, officials said.

Report by David Wilkening

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