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There is a quiet revolution going on in the world of visa policies, and it deserves a lot more attention for its remarkable effects on global business travel and indeed the business of travel. The world is moving towards visa on arrival, and how: Out of nearly 5,100 visa requirement changes globally over two-year period ending in 2012, a vast majority — 70 percent — of these involved changing from “visa required” to enter a country to “visa on arrival” according to a new report by UNWTO World Tourism organization.
That’s the real human network expanding right before our eyes. That’s the unheralded reason behind the one billion travelers that crisscrossed the globe in 2012 — the first year that it crossed that billion mark.
The countries most keen on opening up their travel policies are, not surprisingly, the emerging and newly ascendant economies including countries like China, India, Brazil and even Myanmar, as they fall over themselves to attract tourists, and more importantly, business travelers as way to spur and grow their economies.
The chart above illustrates that fast change happening in the visa policies around the world. While at the beginning of 2008, destinations requested from an average 77% of the world’s population to apply for a traditional visa prior to departure, this percentage was down to 63% by 2012. And E-visas, the virtual visas that are delivered digitally and don’t require visiting an embassy — especially good for smaller countries lacking a global network of embassies and consulates — or even presenting passport for stamping, are the biggest talked about future change coming. Australia and UAE are at the forefront of the E-visas movement.
Some more data on these changes:
- When traveling to an emerging economy destination on average 61% of the world population needs a traditional visa and 2% an E-visa, while for advanced economy destinations 73% need a traditional visa and 2% an E-visa. However, full exemption from a visa is more common in advanced economies (24% vs. 17%), whereas in emerging economies visa on arrival is much more common (21% vs. 0.4%).
- South-East Asian, East African and Caribbean destinations are among the most open.
- Central African and North American destinations are the most restrictive. North America is one of the most restricted sub-regions, where only 11% of the world’s population can enter without a visa.
- European destinations are among the more restrictive, requiring 72% of the world’s population to obtain a visa before departure, while 21% was not required to obtain a visa and 6% could obtain it on arrival.
As these macro change are happening, some new policies are being put in place in a wide range of countries:
- China just started a new policy where it now allows most foreign visitors to stay in Beijing and Shanghai for three days without a visa if they are heading on to another country, and applies to 45 countries, thus giving business travel to these regions a huge boost.
- India has expanded its visa on arrival policy over 2012, and saw a big 25 percent jump in visitors doing VoA over 2011.
- Myanmar, just opening up after decades of oppressive military rule, launched a business visa on arrival scheme for close to 30 countries for 2012 and is considering expanding a lot more this year.
- Turkey has more than doubled international arrivals in a decade by providing visas on arrival.
- Even dour and closed Russia is finally encouraging visa-free travel to and from the European Union.
- The ASEAN south east Asian nations are moving to a common regional visa to promote economic development.
- The U.S., under the Obama administration, has finally realized the need to open up visas to spur travel, and over the last year or so has made it much easier for Brazilian, Chinese, Mexican, and Taiwanese travelers, among others, to come into U.S..
- Hotel giants Hilton Worldwide and Marriott International realize the effect these new policies, once in place, could have on their businesses, so they teamed up at recently concluded World Economic Forum in Davos to ask world governments to adopt “smart visa” policies.
All of this will go a long way towards 2 billion travelers per year as aimed by UNWTO over the next decade. And even if visa policies don’t ever get abolished in any major way worldwide, visa-on-arrival is going to become the new lingo in the world of travel, and will give a big boost specifically to the business of business travel.