Tourism and Travel is one of the world’s most competitive economic sectors with 10.4% of GDP, one out of ten (319 million) jobs on the planet and 6.5% of global exports in 2018. In addition, 1 in 5 of the new jobs created over the past five years have been generated by the sector. However, despite the sustained growth of the sector that exceeds the global economy, Travel & Tourism has traditionally been overlooked as a major driver for international trade and job creation. Nonetheless, international travel rose to 1.4 billion foreign arrivals by 5.500 percent from 1950 to 2018.
The rapidly expanding middle classes as the leading driver for emerging and developing economies will not waive this growth in the coming years. Indeed, by 2030, international arrivals are projected to reach 1.8 billion. The sector will need to ensure that it is able to prosper in the necessary conditions to meet and surpass these forecasts.
Over the last decade, the big strides in visa facilitation have helped international travel. Traditional visa requirement has decreased in percent from 77% in 2008 to 53% in 2018. In the same period, the percentage of travelers required to obtain a conventional visa fell from 57% to 22%. A change from traditionals visas to visas for entry (from 6% to 16%) (from 0% to 10%) to visa on arrival (by 17% to 21%) and e-visas from 2008 to 2018 (from 0% to 9%) and visa withdrawal has occurred in full. The most open destinations have been to date in South Eastern Asia, Oceania and East Africa, while the most restrictive areas remain in North, Central Africa and North Africa. Despite changes, both tourism and economic growth tend to be obstructed by conventional visa policies. To date, high transaction costs, restricting the attractions and hindering cross-border travel, resulting in many potential travelers becoming frustrated by outdated visa application processes, have been the rapidly increasing client base in the sector, especially for the emerging middle class in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle-East.
The barrier can provide growth and jobs for the world’s destinations through innovative approaches to promoting travel and new technologies to facilitate visa policy implementation.
One of the most important government policies that influence international travel and tourism is the visa policy. In fact, visa facilitation, which relates to increasing demand and related economic and social gains is essential for destinations to achieve their Travel and Tourism potential.
Whilst acknowledging the benefits and value of smart visa policies, the final decision concerning the entry into sovereign territory of a foreign country rests with the Government. Nonetheless, States have the authority, especially via visa policies, to decide on the access of foreign nationals openly, unilaterally or in cooperation with other States. Specially, security, immigration control, income production & reciprocity and the defense of a destination capability are important functions of visas. In comparison, the key functions of visas must not be diluted; simpler policies can and should be enforced that retain the required visa functions while allowing travel.
The research of WTTC and UNWTO into the effect of G20 countries ‘ visa facility policies in 2012 has shown that visa facilitation in the following years of policy modifications have traditionally increased the number of international tourist arrivals on affected markets from 5% to 25% annually. More recent analysis carried out in 2018 indicates that the real rise in travel request after policy change is affected by the form of policy change and its destination characteristics, including the attractiveness of the destination. WTTC has established the average effect of different policy reforms, with a transition to visa-free travel contributing to a 16.6-per-cent growth in travel demand, the development of new types of visas leading to an increase in travel demand by 8.1 per-cent and the introduction of best practices, which allows travel demand to grow by 4.3 percent.
The first and most obvious step in addressing barriers to growth in the tourism and travel sectors is to track the current regulatory barriers and to remove those which are not required or which are more costly than advantages. Many of the obsolete visa procedures mentioned in the previous section can be reduced or completely eliminated. Modern information technologies also enabling travelers to travel longer distances to reach the closest consulate to make visa applications more easily and accessible. The implementation of “on arrival visa,” “trusted travellers” and e-visa programs also increases travelers satisfaction and offers a safely secure information infrastructure.
Some examples of countries that have recently taken steps to facilitate visa access include:
- Visa-on-arrival introduction in India: In 2013, India made efforts to dissuade potential visitors from its visa application process. The number of different types of visas offered has been reduced from 16 to 3, and tourists from selected countries can now receive visas at the biggest international airports in India.
- Proposal for Schengen revisions of the European Commission: The European Commission has recently submitted a proposal to increase the accommodation of candidates in the Schengen visa application process. In compliance with this plan, it would reduce to 10 days from the present 15 the deadline for reviewing and approving a visa application. In addition, request forms would be streamlined, made available online, and regular visitors would be offered a new type of multiple entry visa.
- Electronic Visas: Australia offers online, free, without consulates or bureaucratic hurdles, e-Visitor or Electronic Travel Authority entry permits for passengers from certain countries. With its Visa Waiver Program, the US does something similar. Sri Lanka (2012), Turkey (2013), Azerbaijan (2013), Qatar (2014) and (shortly) Myanmar also play a role in launching electronic visas over the last three years.
The best way to eliminate visa-related barriers is to completely eliminate visa requirements. Existing visa policies are based on several factors, including defense, border control and geopolitical considerations, but any diplomatic agreement removing the need for such restrictions improves the economic growth prospects in the affected countries.
Current Visa Policy Reflected
Cooperation between public and privately held sectors could be further enhanced to allow governments, for example through the use of advanced passage information (API), to facilitate the authentication and verification of voyageurs at the time of flight booking. It must be done in accordance with national and local laws on the sharing of information and privacy. At the same time, there could be increased cooperation within national governments, particularly to ensure that the Ministries of Tourism participate in discussions with the Home Office equivalent on the subject of travel and visas facilitation.
In this context, tourism ministries will inventory the markets that need visas to visit their country, taking into account the outgoing tourism markets, GDP and stability, among other factors, to determine whether a policy review is worthwhile.
Move away from Paper Visas & Visas on Arrival
Despite the progress, 53% of the world’s population still requires a paper visa and 16% a UNWTO visa on arrival. Although these types of visas are common and decline in use, they are not optimal in terms of safety and efficiency. Considering the disadvantages of those visas, alternative solutions would be suggested as outlined in the following section.
Paper-based visas, where individuals have to apply to a consulate in person; contribute to significant inefficiencies without significantly improving security for low-risk countries, while at the same time reducing their costs in travel by imposing additional costs. The costs are not simply financial, as visa applicants may have to travel long distances to apply through a country consulate and often face long time waiting to receive the visa.
Opt for E-Visas, Third-Party Visas, Gateway Visas & Multilateral Agreements
Although ideally, the majority of nationals from around the world would not have visas for international border travel, it is recognized that this may not be feasible at present for all countries and travelers for reasons of national security. Thus the second best approach allows protection during seamless travel, especially electronic and bilateral (regional) agreements for registered travelers such as the APEC Business Travel Card. The second best approach is to safe and secure travel.
Educate Travelers and the Trade of Policy Changes
With the implementation of new policies on visa facilitation, it is essential to inform travelers and business people about and inform them of the change which has taken place to guarantee a smooth transition. A public-private solution is to raise awareness of the new policies, for example by supporting the government by sharing the relevant information for its passengers when booking their flights to the appropriate airlines and travel agencies.
The “Visa Waiver”
One misconception is that a person requires no visa or authorisation to travel when he or she waives a visa. However, individuals must obtain a valid travel permit before they travel. A visa waiver is required. In view of this recurring misunderstanding it would be advisable to consider rebranding its program by countries using that terminology to ensure a common view is consistent with the policy vision.