Government touts new mobile app for smoother foreign travel

Canadian travellers now have a selection of mobile apps for their smart phones and tablets that will give them useful trip information in one package, courtesy of the federal government.

Travel Smart will provide information via Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds and email updates

The government has announced its newly revamped website, travel.gc.ca, which can be used to download information onto a smart phone or tablet.

Canadian travellers now have a selection of mobile apps for their smartphones and tablets that will give them useful trip information in one package, courtesy of the federal government.

The government is providing free downloads that contain some information that is available elsewhere, such as what objects can be brought onto a plane, but also incorporates information from other websites, such as border wait times and airport security wait times, and bundles it all into one portal.

At Toronto's island aiport Friday, Diane Ablonczy, minister of state for Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs), announced the launch of a newly revamped website, travel.gc.ca, as Canada's official "one-stop shop" for international travel information.

Ablonczy said the new mobile application, called Travel Smart, will provide travellers with information through Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds and email updates.

Several other government departments will funnel feeds of updated information to the website, including the Canada Revenue Agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Canada Border Services Agency, Citizenship and Immigration, Public Safety, Transport Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Travellers will be able to receive on their smartphones or tablets updated information about various documents, including passports, visas, certificates of Canadian citizenship, international driving permits, consent letters for children travelling alone and health certificates for travelling pets.

Canadians can use the website to access information about safety and security, local laws and customs, entry requirements, and health conditions in whatever country they're visiting. Subscribers to the travel.gc.ca Twitter and Facebook channels will receive travel advice updates, emergency contacts and crisis information. 

Travellers will also be able to register on the site that they are travelling abroad, something they've always been advised to do but often skip, in order to let government know how many Canadians are in an area if it's hit by a crisis, such as an earthquake or an uprising.

While all this information, handily collected in one online place, will likely be welcomed by many travellers, the government, at the same time, is cutting back on some of the traditional services it provides abroad.

CBC News has reported that at least four consulates across the U.S. as well as seven domestic trade offices in Canada are due to close due to spending cuts at Foreign Affairs.

As well, in September, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced an agreement to open joint Canada-U.K. diplomatic missions abroad in an effort to extend each country's diplomatic reach while cutting costs.

Documents obtained by CBC News about Canada's shifting foreign policy indicate that the government is concerned about what Canadians can realistically expect from its embassies and consular services, in an era of budgetary restraint. The documents note Canadians are travelling abroad more and more, and made 56 million trips in 2010. There are also 2.8 million Canadians living abroad.

Due to growing demands, the government says it must "shape realistic expectations" about what Canadians can count on in dealing with embassies and consular services by "finding alternative and less costly ways to deliver routine services through the better use of technology, and by managing expectations of Canadian citizens living abroad (including those relating to their non-Canadian families) particularly during times of crisis."