The World Travel Agents Associations Alliance (WTAAA) is urging governments to streamline visa processing in order to promote travel and, in turn, economic growth.
“Too many countries still require travel visas that are often time-consuming and costly,” WTAAA chair Peter Barlow told Travel Market Report.
The visa issue was aired during two days of “robust” discussions at the WTAAA board’s recent biannual meeting in Madrid, recently, said Barlow, a New Zealand travel agent who is president of Travel Agents' Association of New Zealand (TAANZ).
Another key topic of discussion was the need for a global crisis communications platform for the travel industry, according to Barlow.
The WTAAA is currently in expansion mode. At the board’s invitation, the Brazilian Association of Travel Agencies (ABAV) has joined – the first South American agent group to do so. And China is among countries targeted for expansion.
Barlow, managing director of BCD Travel New Zealand, discussed the visa issue, WTAAA expansion and the travel industry’s response to crises with Travel Market Report via email.
Are visa issues causing travel agencies to lose business? How can visa processing be streamlined?
Barlow: Generally speaking, visa issues are not necessarily impacting financially on travel agents in most markets, nor greatly impeding the travel experience. That said, too many countries still require travel visas that are often time-consuming and costly (to obtain).
Schengen visa rules, which make travel simple within the 25 European country members, have had a significant [negative] impact on African nationals, for example, wishing to visit Europe and from many other markets, thus impacting inbound tourism.
I am not sure there is a simple solution to streamlining the processing of visas.
Is there a possibility of standardizing visa requirements globally?
Barlow: The future lies in the potential to maximize the use of information and communication technologies in improving visa procedures.
This means improving the delivery of information inter-country, facilitating current processes to obtain visas, differentiated treatment to facilitate tourist travel, instituting eVisa programs and establishing regional agreements for visa facilitation. Surely, automating this process will assist greatly.
This remains a great opportunity – stimulating economic growth through tourism job creation.
With travel agent groups from Brazil and India, WTAAA now counts two of the three BRIC growth markets among its members. Do you see China travel agents joining WTAAA?
Barlow: Yes, China is seen as a very important contributing market to WTAAA. Asia is the growth market and a strategic opportunity to most other markets.
It is our intention to engage with individual country associations within Asia, as appropriate, to further develop a voice in this marketplace.
Why does the travel industry need a global crisis communications platform? Would it be used in crises like those in Japan last year or Egypt’s Arab Spring?
Barlow: WTAAA has long been concerned with developing an appropriate communications platform for crisis management. Travelers, and business travelers particularly, require clear, concise, current and factual information on disaster-related events, pandemics and political unrest.
While the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) took the initiative in mobilizing the travel trade in the face of the potential evolution of the H5N1 avian flu virus to a pandemic form, the necessity for closer collaboration and cooperation among decision-makers and stakeholders in tourism was reinforced as a result of recent events that were damaging to the industry.
The catalyst was the (Indian Ocean) tsunami of December 2004, when men and nations became conscious of the fragility of established systems against unforeseen and unpredictable elements.
What steps have you taken toward a crisis communications platform? How would it work?
Barlow: We have engaged and partnered with a UNWTO initiative called TERN, the Tourism Emergency Response Network. TERN is a closely knit group of the leading tourism associations of the world.
TERN is characterized by its independence and interdependency where each partner works for the common good of a single cause: make travel and destinations safe for tourists.
Some basic guidelines were established at the inception such as:
• work closely with the UN system
• share real-time information and ideas
• give clear, concise and geographically specific public messages
• seek close media liaison to better spread information
• be activated for regional and global emergencies of relevance for the travel and tourism sector or, if so requested, by one of the TERN members.