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Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization. - Contributed

Governments recognise benefits of visa facilitation

Visa facilitation has experienced strong progress in recent years, particularly through the implementation of visa-on-arrival policies according to United Nations World Tourism Organization's (UNWTO) latest Visa Openness Report. This largely reflects an increased awareness among policymakers of the positive impacts of visa facilitation on tourism and economic growth.

According to the report, 62 per cent of the world's population was required to have a traditional visa prior to departure in 2014, down from 77 per cent in 2008. In the same year, 19 per cent of the world's population was able to enter a destination without a visa, while 16 per cent could receive a visa on arrival, as compared to 17 per cent and six per cent in 2008.

The report also shows that the most prevalent facilitation measure implemented has been visa-on-arrival. Over half of all improvements made in the last four years were from visa required to visa on arrival.

"Visa facilitation is central to stimulating economic growth and job creation through tourism. Although there is much room for improvement, we are pleased to see that a growing number of governments around the world is taking decisive steps in this regard," said UNWTO secretary-general Taleb Rifai.

Arrivals forecast

Countries in the Americas and in Asia and the Pacific have been at the forefront of visa facilitation, while Europe and Middle East have more restrictive visa policies. Overall, emerging economies tend to be more open than advanced ones, with South-East Asia, East Africa, the Caribbean and Oceania among the most open subregions.

"UNWTO forecasts international tourist arrivals to reach 1.8 billion by 2030, and easier visa procedures will be crucial to attract these travellers, especially tourists from emerging source markets like China, Russia, India and Brazil," added Rifai.

Research by UNWTO and the World Travel and Tourism Council shows that the G20 economies could boost their international tourist numbers by an additional 122 million, generate an extra US$206 billion in tourism exports, and create more than five million additional jobs by improving visa processes and entry formalities.

The same research carried out for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries indicates that visa facilitation could generate important gains for both groups, including the creation of 2.6 million jobs in APEC and 650,000 jobs in ASEAN.

Data on visa policies by country has been collected by UNWTO on an annual basis since 2008 and validated through surveys and communication with the organisation's member states. 

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