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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Airport customs process in Honolulu getting friendlier

By Dennis Camire
Advertiser Washington Bureau

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Tourists from Japan are among the many foreign arrivals at Honolulu International Airport, which is one of 20 airports across the country that will benefit from an improved customs clearance process.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | January 2008

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WASHINGTON Honolulu International Airport is among 20 airports across the country where U.S. Customs and Border Protection will improve the process of clearing and welcoming overseas travelers to the United States.

The efforts include a new video in several languages that helps travelers through the customs and immigration process, the agency said.

Customs service spokeswoman Joanne Ferreira said the agency is considering offering a revised video in Japanese in addition to the Spanish, French, German and English language versions currently being shown.

The current materials were put together for last year's test program at international airports in Houston and just outside Washington, D.C.

"We're trying to make it better, and we're learning from all this," Ferreira said.

Other improvements include a "Welcome to the U.S." brochure and a variety of new bilingual direction signs.

Honolulu and the other airports eventually will be equipped with more video monitors, a welcome message and information on the entry process.

Sen. Dan Akaka, D-Hawai'i, a senior member of the Homeland Security Committee, said he was pleased to see Hawai'i included in the program, noting that more than 1.8 million international visitors flew to the state last year.

"It (the program) should make our guests' arrival less stressful and more efficient," Akaka said.

As part of the $40 million "model ports" program, the customs service also wants to put together groups of private and public officials to come up with ways to create a better overall passenger experience.

"Improving the U.S. entry experience for arriving overseas travelers will help show the rest of the world that America is a welcoming nation," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the Travel Industry Association.

The customs program is part of an ongoing effort to try to turn around a drop in overseas visitors in the face of stricter entry rules after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Travel industry officials have said the number of overseas visitors coming to the United States is 11 percent below the 26 million arriving in 2000.

They point to surveys that show international travelers believe that the U.S. entry process is the "world's worst."

"Security is extremely important and critical to this industry, but you can have great security and a welcoming attitude," Dow said. "They're not mutually exclusive."

Customs said it selected airports with the largest number of foreign visitors annually for the new program to be rolled out later this year.

In addition to Honolulu, they are in New York; Miami; Los Angeles; Newark, N.J.; Chicago; San Francisco; Atlanta; Dallas-Fort Worth; Orlando, Fla.; Detroit; Boston; Las Vegas; Seattle; Philadelphia; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Sanford, Fla.

They join George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston and Washington Dulles International Airport, which piloted the program last year.

Reach Dennis Camire at dcamire@gns.gannett.com.