When politicians in different regions threaten to get rid of visa-free travel, tourism hangs in the balance and potentially suffers. That’s why Gerald Lawless, chairman of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), feels that a worldwide trusted traveler program could help all countries and travelers get on the same page about visas.
Imagining a global visa-free block like Europe’s Schengen Area might be difficult given global security threats and political turmoil around the world. But some regions are getting closer to such a system, Lawless told Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali during an on-stage interview at the inaugural Skift Forum Europe held in London in April.
Visa-free blocks in Europe, Australia and elsewhere have helped tourism grow over the years. Southeast Asia’s ASEAN block of countries, for example, have shown potential in moving towards visa-free travel in the coming years, Lawless said.
Electronic visas, in particular, have arguably been one of the top catalysts for the growth of global travel during the past two decades. “We think that a more logical approach to electronic visa issuing and the whole use of electronic data platforms, on a voluntary basis for the traveler, could be something we could really evolve towards over the years,” he said.
India, in an effort to promote tourism, recently introduced visa on arrival for five countries. The UAE, which introduced visa-free travel to European Union citizens more than a decade ago, was granted reciprocity by the European Union in 2015.
“We told the UAE, ‘don’t ask for reciprocity because you won’t get it,’ said Lawless. “Reciprocity comes in time.”
Many countries don’t have specific ministers of tourism or cabinet positions dedicated to overseeing tourism development, an impediment to promoting trusted traveler programs. “We must keep lobbying within the industry to our politicians and say ‘please be sensible…don’t do things for political reasons that would have huge consequences for our industry,'” said Lawless.
You can watch the full discussion below.
Note: Initial planning is in full-swing for our flagship event Skift Global Forum, which will be held September 26-27 in New York City. We wanted to make sure our most loyal Skift readers were able to purchase their tickets early and were rewarded for doing so. That’s why we’ve re-opened up our previously sold out early bird discount for an additional 35 tickets. Attendees can now save $800 per ticket on the largest creative business conference in travel.
At this year’s inaugural Skift Forum Europe in London, travel leaders from around the world gathered for a day of inspiration, information, and conversation on the future of travel.