While Western nations are afforded with the luxury of greater visa-free travel, emerging market tourism is growing, despite significant visa restrictions. China is a prime example, as the #1 global tourism spender, with among the lowest ranks of freedom in visa-free travel. Sources: Graph by Criterion Global Inc. Visa restrictions data provided by Henley & Partners (2012). Tourist expenditures data provided by UNWTO (2012).
The 2013 UN World Tourism Organization report confirmed what the travel trade already knew to be true: that China is now the world’s fastest growing and highest spending source of tourism. Making over 83 MM international trips and spending $102 billion USD in tourism in 2012, China has toppled all previously held records in international tourism spend. And China’s 9.5% global market share is only projected to grow.
Though the Chinese are a highly coveted audience for international destination marketing organizations (DMOs), outbound Chinese travel is still stunted by visa restrictions around the world. A Henley & Partners visa restriction index ranks China 82nd in the world in outbound travel accessibility, just 11 ranks above Afghanistan, the lowest scoring country. In contrast with the citizens of top-scoring nations UK, Finland, and Sweden who enjoy visa-free travel to 173 countries, Chinese citizens have visa-free access to just 44 countries.
These visa restrictions stymie potential revenue for a host of international DMOs. Complex visa applications deter many from traveling to nations that require them and it’s not hard to understand why: the application process can be cumbersome, costly, and visits to a consulate can become a journey in itself.
In fact, 90% of Chinese respondents said their travel destination choices were “dictated by visa requirements” according to a recent survey by Skyscanner.
While Western countries generally enjoy the greatest freedom in visa-free travel, UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai contends, “emerging economies continue to lead growth in tourism demand.”
China is at the top of the spending hierarchy; while Russia and Brazil recently advanced to 5th and 12th place in tourist spend. DMOs worldwide are lobbying to ease visa restrictions as a way to lure larger audiences, to continue gains seen worldwide from emerging market tourism.
These bilateral arrangements are mutually beneficial and will provide an influx of tourism dollars from some of the world’s top spenders, however; unified regional visas hold great potential for regions comprised of smaller nations. With unified regional visas, travelers can explore multiple nations with a single flight– an appealing option in a globally tumultuous economy.
These bilateral arrangements are mutually beneficial in providing an influx of tourism dollars from some of the world’s top spenders, however unified regional visas hold great potential for regions comprised of smaller nations, as, in most cases travelers can explore multiple nations with a single flight – an appealing proposition in a globally tumultuous economy.
Certain member-states of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), The East Africa Community (EAC), and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have proposed adopting Europe’s Schengen visa model, in which a single visa application grants entry into 25 European states. A unified visa process eases one impediment to visiting multiple countries within a region, extends visitor duration, increases internal transportation on local or regional air, rail, and car rental operators, and will increase tourism revenue overall.
This June, ministers and tourism officials of Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, and the Philippines signed a statement of intent for implementing a unified ASEAN SMART Visa during the World Economic Forum in East Asia.
The GCC business body has also rekindled a decade-long conversation on a uniform visa for the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. Abdulrahim Hasan Naqi, security-general of the Federation of GCC chambers, projected that the draft would go into effect by the end of 2013.
Latest to join the trend are Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda of the EAC countries, most recently announcing plans to launch a unified visa scheme in Q1 2014.
Though unified visa schemes raise complex questions about cross-border security, destination marketing budget allocation, as well as transparency, sharing, and use of inter-regional tourism data, unified visa schemes hold massive potential to advance tourism revenue for regions comprised of smaller nations.
With emerging market tourism seizing a greater share of global tourism spending, the unified visa movement will undoubtedly continue to gain momentum in the coming decade.
— Jocelyn Chuang is the Associate Director of Strategy at Criterion Global, an international media planning and buying agency specializing in tourism and destination marketing organization clients. Criterion Global is recipient of the 2013 Travel Marketing Awards’ Best Digital Campaign.
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