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At US$ 6.3 trillion in 2011, or 9.3% of total worldwide GDP, the impact of travel and tourism is greater than that of some of the biggest manufacturing sectors, namely automotive, chemicals and manufacturing.1 The industry currently directly employs 98 million people;2 for every 36 new tourists in a given destination, one new job is created. With this sort of economic clout, the aviation, travel and tourism industry plays an important role on many key issues, including job creation, sustainability, security and economic growth.
The Current Challenge
The growth of the tourism industry over the past century has been remarkable. In the 1950s international arrivals amounted to a mere 25 million compared to an estimated 1 billion in 2012. Despite the tremendous importance of travel as a source of revenue for developed and developing economies, delays in visa processing impede growth in this lucrative economic sector.3
- In 2011, 110 million international tourists were required to obtain a visa to visit G20 countries. This represented 17% of all international tourist arrivals to the G20.
- Visa facilitation can create 5.1 million additional jobs in G20 economies.
- Existing case studies show substantial, and in some cases dramatic, increases in the number of visits when visa-related policies and processes are improved. These increases range from 1% to 90% annually, depending on the specific visa facilitation actions taken and the markets affected.
At a time when job creation and economic growth are at the top of the global agenda, the Global Agenda Council on Aviation, Travel & Tourism4 believes that the industry can play a critical role in creating employment opportunities globally – raising national income, improving the balance of payments and boosting economic growth – if governments were to introduce visa facilitation procedures and eVisas for business and leisure travel.
Thus, this Council’s vision is for countries to facilitate visa acquisition procedures and adopt an eVisa system that would allow, for example, a Kenyan touring France on a Schengen visa to add Ireland to his itinerary mid-visit simply by using a smartphone to apply for and receive the necessary visa as easily as purchasing a plane ticket to Dublin. It is that level of convenience that will be expected by present and future travellers, and that vision which motivates the present proposal for global adoption of eVisa programmes.5
The World Economic Forum is a key stakeholder in raising awareness and the coordination of this “Call for Action”. The Forum can facilitate the dialogue needed between governments and business on the importance of reducing visa acquisition procedures and the introduction of eVisas as a vehicle for stimulating economic growth and job creation. Moreover, the development of a framework for the introduction and implementation of eVisas requires dialogue and interaction and coordination among national and international stakeholders, which can be provided through the Forum’s stakeholders as well as the network of Global Agenda Councils.
Since the Council’s inception in 2010, it has focused its efforts on the aviation industry’s regulatory system, discriminatory taxation, sustainable aviation, the new consumer and travel facilitation. Given current global economic conditions, the Council opted to focus during the 2011-2012 term on developing a “Call to Action”, setting out a set of principles that would assist the facilitation of travel by streamlining visa processes and the introduction of electronic visas (eVisas).
A Bold Vision: Freedom to Travel Visa Facilitation and the Introduction of eVisa
The Council proposes that countries explore the development of a framework that would enable the introduction of an eVisa system at a national level. It also aspires to its introduction at a regional and global level as it would maximize the growth potential of the international travel market. While some states use eVisa systems, and others employ open-border policies, these are too limited, ignoring travellers from the largest growing markets such as Brazil, India and China.6
A properly implemented eVisa programme will use new technology to make travel more accessible, harmonize visa requirements to encourage broader travel, and standardize application forms and procedures to make the application process more efficient. Additionally, eVisas could increase national security through online databases of people that could be shared with national agencies and organizations. Requiring traveller information could thus minimize security and break new ground by bringing the benefits of e-governance to bear on the relationship between governments and foreign citizens, strengthening international communal bonds.
As such, while fully recognizing and respecting the sovereign rights of nations to control their borders, the Council calls on governments to commit to improving the delivery of visa information to applicants, facilitating and streamlining current visa processes by 2015, differentiating eVisa programmes, exploring the introduction of eVisa systems by 2020, and establishing regional agreements.
The members of the Global Agenda Council on Aviation, Travel & Tourism have reached out to their respective government officials to ensure that this issue is on their national agenda. Council members have also been working to ensure that travel facilitation is, or remains, included in national, regional (EU level) or international discussions (e.g. G20 agenda).
The Council has developed a seven-page report as well as an executive summary outlining the recommendations to policy-makers. The main principles behind the recommendations are:
- Understand positive impacts of visa simplification.
- Address core visa functions.
- Treat visitors as customers.
- Cooperation and collaboration.
Staying at the Forefront of the Global Agenda: Travel, Trade & Tourism Summit
In order to ensure that the Council’s issues stay at the forefront of the global agenda, a one-day summit was held during the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok on 30 May. The Council has taken the lead in the organization and in the development of the programme for the event.
Thailand was an ideal place to host this event. Indeed, in 2010, the Asia Pacific region, alongside South America and the Middle East, was labelled among the most dynamic for world tourism. With outbound travel increasing at double-digit rates and an optimistic forecast for the next few years, the Asia Pacific region is set to be a global engine for growth.
The summit focused on five main sessions: the region’s competitiveness: reducing hurdles to travel mobility; enabling trade; sustainable aviation; and new consumer trends. To read more about each of these sessions, see Open Borders: Revitalizing Asia’s Growth through Travel, Trade and Tourism.
The opinions expressed here are those of the individual Members of the Council, and not of the World Economic Forum or any institutions to which they are affiliated