Passport Canada Consultations on Passport Services

In-Depth Interview Report

Prepared for Passport Canada
January 2010

Executive Summary

Passport Canada commissioned Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc. to undertake research to explore issues related to a new 10-year electronic passport (ePassport) that the Government of Canada intends to launch in 2011. The objective was to explore Canadians’ perceptions of the enhanced passport, including a number of service-related issues, in advance of its launch. The results will enable Passport Canada to better understand public perceptions of the new validity period and the enhanced product, and make informed decisions regarding implementation of the 10-year ePassport and the development of related communications.

This report presents the results from a set of 20 in-depth interviews conducted November 6-December 21 2009. The interviews were conducted with representatives of the travel/tourism industry. This research was qualitative in nature, not quantitative. As such, the results provide an indication of participants’ views about the issues explored, but cannot be generalized to any of the audiences included in this research.

These interviews were part of a research program that includes a telephone survey and a set of focus groups with members of the general public. Results from the other elements of the research are available under separate cover.

Perceptions of Passports (in General) and the Canadian Passport

When participants think about the most important features or characteristics of a passport, they focused most often on its ability to facilitate entry into a country. To many participants, this also implied that the passport is up-to-date in terms of internationallyrecognized security standards. Many also described a passport as an important identification document, with a few describing it as the only internationally-recognized ID document.

When the focus turned to the Canadian passport, the characteristic or element judged to be important was its reputation/recognition internationally. In describing its main benefits or advantages, participants routinely pointed to facilitating entry to other countries and visa-free travel. Many also pointed to its durability as a travel document. Most participants said they have no concerns about the Canadian passport, though many volunteered that its validity period should be extended to 10 years.

Perceptions of New Passport in General

Most participants claimed to be aware of the Government of Canada’s intention to introduce a new passport by 2011. The extension of the validity period was the aspect of the new passport identified most often.

Initial reaction to the proposed passport, based on a short description participants were asked to read, was positive, and in most cases highly positive. Moreover, positive reaction applied to both elements of the enhanced passport – the electronic aspect and the extended validity period. That said, participants raised a number of questions about specific aspects or elements of the proposed passport.

Focus on ePassport

Overall reaction to the idea of an electronic passport was positive, though participants collectively raised a number of questions about it. Concerns about the electronic passport tended to mirror those of the general public expressed in the focus groups. These include the safety/security of the information in the chip, potential problems that might arise if the chip was damaged, and questions about use-related issues and situations/scenarios that might arise (e.g. what if the information in the chip and on page 2 did not coincide? will ePassport technology be accessible around the world? what happens in countries that do not have the technology to access the information stored in the chip in electronic passports?). Moreover, there was concern that the travelling public would expect professionals in the travel industry to answer such questions. A number of participants suggested that Passport Canada make available a short Q&A document for professionals in the travel industry so as to allow them to answer questions asked of them by the traveling public.

Among tour operators, the cost implications of the new passport were particularly important since the cost of a passport was seen to have an impact on the likelihood of travel, especially family travel, and therefore on their own business.

When it came to perceived benefits/advantages of the electronic aspect of the proposed passport, participants routinely identified the following: faster processing at point of entry, compliance with international standards, thereby maintaining the strongly positive reputation of the Canadian passport, and increasing security/preventing identity fraud/forgery.

Extended Validity Period

Overall reaction to the idea of extending the validity period of the passport to 10 years was positive, with all participants reacting positively to this proposal. That said, participants did have questions about this, nearly all of which had to do with changes that can occur over a 10-year period and their implications (e.g. facial features changing, changes to one’s name because of marriage or divorce?, the electronic chip degenerating over time).

There was unanimity regarding the main benefits/advantages of a 10-year passport: the extended validity period, which meant that one would need to apply less often for a passport. Other perceived advantages or benefits were identified infrequently, including bringing the Canadian passport into line with others that have a 10-year validity period, savings if one only has to apply for a passport every 10 years, and faster service as a result of fewer line-ups when applying for a passport.

Positive reaction to the idea of a 10-year passport was underscored by the fact that, given the choice between a 10-year or 5-year passport, all participants chose the 10-year option. In explaining why, they re-iterated what they saw as the main benefit of such a passport – increased convenience. Some summarized their preference by stating that any measure that facilitates travel for the general public or makes it more convenient helps them as professionals working in the travel/tourism industry.

Related Issues

Participants identified a variety of ways Passport Canada could inform professionals in the travel/tourism industry about issues of interest or relevance to them in a cost-effective way. The most frequently suggested way was to place a notice in travel/tourism trade publications or websites. Many also suggested going through trade associations, and placing a notice or information on the Passport Canada website.

When it came to ways of consulting with industry and business representatives regarding the new 10-year passport, participants routinely identified in-depth interviews, short surveys, and focus groups as vehicles for consultation. Many also suggested conferences, seminars, workshops, and roundtables organized by Passport Canada in cooperation with industry associations such as the ones identified above.

Participants were informed that there are different pricing models that Passport Canada could adopt to govern passport price increases. The following three approaches were presented to them for their reaction:

  • The current system, where price increases are fairly infrequent and therefore are fairly large when they do take place.
  • Putting in place a regular schedule of price increases, where the schedule is set every five years or so. The schedule would identify a series of smaller price increases that would take place on a regular basis (e.g. every year or two years).
  • Having periodic price increases, say every two years, based on the inflation rate.

In response, most participants expressed a preference for putting in place a regular schedule of price increases, where the schedule is set every five years or so. The reason was that this would introduce a certain amount of predictability into price increases and give a heads-up to industry that would allow it to anticipate and prepare for price changes. This option, as well as the topic of costing options in general, was of most interest to tour operators who were concerned that increases in the cost of a passport would have an impact on the likelihood of travel, and therefore on their own business.

Some preferred the idea of periodic price increases as opposed to infrequent and large increases. However, they expressed no real preference for a regular schedule of price increases or periodic increases based on the inflation rate. What they liked about either of these options, like those who preferred a regular schedule, was the introduction of a certain amount of predictability into price increases.

A few participants had no real opinion or preference regarding specific options.