Hilton Worldwide and Marriott International addressed global business and travel industry leaders this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to urge governments to move quickly to adopt “Smart Visa” policies, which stimulate global travel, create new jobs and spur economic development. 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.
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 U.N. World Tourism Organization reported that more than one billion people traveled outside their borders—a tremendous catalyst for global commerce and new jobs,” said Christopher J. Nassetta, president and CEO of 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 traveling and doing business,” said Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of 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 travelers more easily will allow more people to see the world and result in two billion world travelers in the next decade.”
Many countries are recognizing 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 online and takes minutes, not days or weeks. The ASEAN nations are moving to a common regional visa to promote economic development.
Last year, President Obama announced the development of a national travel and tourism policy. Since then, the U.S. 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," Nassetta and Sorenson said. "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."
Globally, at nearly US$6 trillion in 2011, or 9.1 percent 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.
(Story materials from Marriott International.)