Jan 26, 2013

ASEAN - Call for Smart Visas to facilitate travel for the next billion

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SWITZERLAND – Two hospitality giants – Hilton Worldwide and Marriott International – addressed global business and travel industry leaders today at the World Economic Forum in Davos to urge governments to move quickly to “Smart Visa” policies which stimulate global travel, create new jobs and spur economic development.

Smart Visas refer to safe, secure and sustainable solutions that promote mobility, maximize the use of technology, and expand programs that facilitate travel while removing process inefficiencies caused by arduous visa requirements. As a result of Smart Visa policies, more data is collected and shared across borders, creating enhanced security, efficiencies that reduce government spending and enhanced customer experience.

“In 2012, the UN World Tourism Organization reported that more than one billion people travelled outside their borders – a tremendous catalyst for global commerce and new jobs,” said Christopher J. Nassetta, president and CEO, Hilton Worldwide. “We are here at the World Economic Forum to tackle complex and challenging economic, social, environmental and political issues. Enabling greater international travel is the low-hanging fruit that can create significant economic growth and employment.”

“Smart governments are thinking about international travel and tourism as trade, and they are doing everything they can to remove barriers and be more strategic in addressing visas and other access issues that discourage people from travelling and doing business,” said Arne Sorenson, president and CEO, Marriott International. “While we recognize that security remains a top concern, we call on the world leaders here at Davos to be visionary about a future world of interconnected markets where moving travellers more easily will allow more people to see the world and result in 2 billion world travellers in the next decade.”

The two companies represent more than 7,000 hotels in 90 countries, which include 600,000 employees at these owned, managed and franchised properties.  They are working together with the World Economic Forum Governors for the aviation, travel and tourism industry to promote global action toward “Smart Visa” policies regionally by 2015 and globally by 2020.

The concern on Visa is not a new topic amongst trade professionals, given how the hassle has impeded travellers’ plans as well as died down their hunger to travel more, and further where Visas are required. Amongst the ASEAN nations alone, talks have been raised for the issuance of ASEAN Visa to facilitate travel within this region, with countries such as Cambodia Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar targeting to attain a unified Visa by 2015.    

Many countries are recognising the economic benefits of international travel and tourism and making secure and convenient travel a policy priority, including Turkey, which has more than doubled international visitation in a decade by providing visas on arrival; China, which has implemented visa-free travel for three days to Beijing for 45 countries; Russia, which is encouraging visa-free travel to and from the European Union; and Australia and the United Arab Emirates, which have been utilizing electronic visas, where the process is on-line and takes minutes, not days or weeks.

Last year, President Obama announced the development of a national travel and tourism policy. Since then, the United States has made significant progress, with an increase in international arrivals as the visa waiver program was expanded to Taiwan and wait times for in-person interviews, most notably in China, Brazil, and Mexico, were brought down to under one week.

“We applaud those governments who are taking visionary approaches to facilitating travel, enhancing economies and providing employment opportunities worldwide.  We view the private sector and Forum leaders as powerful partners to ensure progress continues so that global visa and entry policies are augmenting and enhancing the free-flow of goods, services, and people,” said Nassetta and Sorenson.

Globally, at nearly $6 trillion in 2011, or 9.1 per cent of total worldwide GDP, travel and tourism contributes more to world economies than some of the largest manufacturing sectors, including automotive and chemicals. The industry directly employs 98 million people, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Melissa Tizi

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