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One of the most unsung tools of travel and tourism development worldwide over the last decade has been the opening up of the visa regime.
At the beginning of 2008, destinations around the world required, on average, 77% of the world’s population to obtain a traditional visa before visiting. This percentage went down to 75% in 2010 and further down to 64% in 2013.
On one hand, as vast previously underdeveloped swathes of the world build up as the emerging economies, they are keen to attract business travelers and tourists. On the other hand, travelers from these nascent economies are traveling in much larger numbers, such that countries such as China, Russia, and India have become the biggest source markets in the last few years.
To accommodate this, countries small and large are opening up their visa regimes, and UNWTO World Tourism organization has been tracking these changes. In its latest report on “Tourism Visa Openness Report for the Silk Road Countries,” focused on central Asian countries, it lists the changes in 2013 in visa regimes.
From the data in the report, South-East Asian, East African, Caribbean and Oceanian destinations are among the most open regions. The first chart below shows the list of the least restrictive countries to travel to, based on their efforts to facilitate tourism.
Scores range from 0 to 100, with the higher the score, the better. It is calculated by summing the percentage of the world population exempt from obtaining a visa, with the percentages of no visa weighted by 1, visa on arrival weighted by 0.7, eVisa by 0.5, and visa required weighted by 0.
Most of the countries below are small or island countries, and their economies are heavily dependent on building up tourism flows. Most of these are island nations in Oceania and Caribbean regions. The Philippines has also done much to build up tourism in the last few years. Meanwhile, Hong Kong depends heavily on business travel.
The chart below demonstrates that the countries that have done the most in the last three years to open up their visa procedures, also coincide now with the least restrictive countries. For the purposes of the chart below, improvement is easing of the visa formality by either simply abolishing the traditional paper visa or allowing an eVisa or visa on arrival.