Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Tourism

Kenya to Remove Visa Requirement for All Visitors

5 months ago

Visitors to Kenya will no longer need a visa to enter the East African nation starting in January, President William Ruto announced on Tuesday.

Ruto said Kenyan officials had developed a digital platform to ensure all visitors would receive an electronic travel authorization prior to arrival, which would eliminate the need to apply for a visa.

“”It shall no longer be necessary for any person from any corner of the globe to carry the burden of applying for a visa to come to Kenya,” he said at an event commemorating the 60th anniversary of the country’s independence from the United Kingdom.

Ruto has been a vocal advocate for visa-free travel. He announced in late October that Kenya would grant visa-free entry to all African nationals by the end of 2023, becoming the fourth country on the continent to do so.

Kenya’s move to provide all visitors visa-free travel entry comes after Minister of Tourism and Wildlife Alfred Mutua said in November at the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit in Rwanda that the country was considering scrapping visa requirements for visitors outside of Africa.

Nairobi skyline
Nairobi should see more foreign visitors in the near future (PxHere: Daniel Arts Kandie)

Tourism

Brazil to Require Visas for American Tourists in 2024

8 months ago

Brazil will mandate visitors from the U.S., Australia and Canada obtain an e-visa prior to entering the country starting January 10, 2024, according to Embratur, Brazil tourism’s board.

The visa requirement was initially going to take effect on October 1 this year, but the government has postponed it to next year.

Since 2019, Brazil had waived its visa requirement for nationals from U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan . Nationals from those countries had been allowed to stay in the country for up to 90 days with the possibility of extensions of up to 180 days. The visa waiver will last until January 10, according to Embratur.

Visas will be issued electronically. The Brazilian government is currently developing the procedure. Once done, the details for the process will be provided by the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The policy reinstatement is a retaliation toward countries that have not waived their visa rules for Brazilian nationals. The Brazilian government has been pressing U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan to reciprocate and waive its visa requirements.

Brazil has only reached an agreement with Japan to have reciprocal exemption, which will take effect on September 30, 2023. Not only will Japanese tourists continue be allowed to Brazil without a visa, Brazilian tourists will be allowed to Japan visa-free.

Tourism

U.S. Visitor Visa Wait Times in India Drop by 50 Percent

1 year ago

The amount of time a first-time visitor visa applicant in India has to wait for an interview has fallen from an average of 669 days in mid-March to 337 days in early April, a 50 percent drop, according to the U.S. Travel Association. 

The industry lobby group attributed the wait time reduction to the State Department’s initiatives this year to reduce the visa backlog. In India, it has put in place a number of initiatives, such as bringing processing staff in on weekends, making embassies available to Indian nationals in other countries and hiring more staff.

“The results we’re seeing in India are proof that—with the right tools—State can make significant progress on this issue,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman in a statement. “However, there is clearly more work ahead to lower wait times worldwide.”

India is one of the U.S.’s top source markets that are experiencing long visa processing times, which reinforces a Skift megatrend that border bottlenecks will slow the recovery of international travel. Brazil, Mexico and Colombia wait times are at 511 days, 590 days and 752 days, respectively, as of April 14, according to U.S. Travel. The State Department has put in place initiatives in those countries similar to the ones it put in India.

Applicants in India had an especially absurd wait time. In January, for example, they had to wait 999 days for an interview at the Mumbai embassy. 

The country’s rough visa situation was caused by embassies being “shut down completely” by a presidential proclamation during the pandemic combined with the country’s historically high (and now pent-up) demand for all visa categories, said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services Julie Stufft in an interview with Skift.

U.S. Travel encouraged the State Department to continue the initiatives that have proven effective in India in other countries. It also pointed out that competitors are taking away U.S. global travel market share by allowing visa-free travel from the visa backlogged markets. The European Union, for example, allows travelers from Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Israel and Venezuela to visit without a visa.

“No one will wait years for a visa to visit the U.S. when so many other countries welcome global travelers with open arms,” said Freeman. “The State Department must continue to make international visitors an economic priority before we lose them to other destinations.”

Tourism

U.S. Visa Delays Sees Some Reduction

1 year ago

Global average wait times for U.S. visitor visas dropped below 150 days in January for the first time since 2021, according to the U.S. Travel Association. They still, however, remain higher than 400 days for India, Brazil, Mexico and top inbound visa-requiring markets (excluding China).

In 2022, aspiring tourists from the top ten inbound countries outside the U.S. Visa Waiver Program couldn’t travel to the U.S. because they had to hundreds of days to get a visitor visa (B-1 and B-2) interview at their local U.S. embassy. The primary reason was inadequate processing staff amid released pent-up demand. The delays could cost the travel industry an estimated $12 billion in 2023 and cause international travel not to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025, according to the U.S. Travel.

The recent wait time reductions have been due to the State Department’s new processing initiatives. The department’s “Super Saturdays” initiative has had embassies and consulates remain open on Saturdays to process visas. This past Saturday, for example, the consulate at Monterrey, Mexico, cut interview wait times from 545 days in mid-December to (still high) 407 days. The administration’s wavering of interview requirements for low-risk renewals of visitor visa and other categories have also helped.

Visa wait times remain absurdly high for many international tourists. In Mumbai, India, for example, wait times fell from 999 days in mid-December to 623 days—that’s more than a year and a half.

The State Department expects interview wait times will fall to under 120 days and its embassies and consulates will be fully staffed by the end of the 2023 fiscal year, according to U.S. Travel. The speed of visa wait times reductions will vary by country due local travel demand and hiring pace, according to Peter van Berkel, chairman of the International Inbound Travel Association and president of Travalco, a tour operator. 

Under 120 days is still high and underscores the Skift 2023 megatrend that the U.S. travel industry will have to continue to contend with the loss of many international travelers.

Working with the State Department to resolve the visitor visa delay issue will be the top priority for the person that fills the newly-created assistant secretary of travel and tourism position

Tourism

U.S. Travel Launches Website Spotlighting Visa Delay Damage

1 year ago

The U.S. Travel Association has launched a website to highlight the negative impact of long visitor visa interview wait times—which now exceed an average of 400 days—is having on global travelers and U.S. businesses. Called USVisaDelays.com, the website lists stories of those affected, loss in industry spending, visitor wait times, impacted markets and a policy fact sheet. 

Users can also submit their own story as a traveler or a business owner. “There are no better voices to tell the personal toll of America’s de facto border closure than the people, families and American businesses directly impacted by egregious visa wait times,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman. 

The U.S. is projected to lose nearly $7 billion in travel spending in 2023 and not see a full recovery in international inbound travel until 2025, according to U.S. Travel.

The website also calls on the Biden administration to take action and provides policy recommendations. “The Biden administration must focus on what is in its control and take immediate action to lower wait times, “said Freeman. “We simply cannot afford to give travelers any reason to avoid visiting the United States.”

U.S. Travel will launch custom versions of the website in both English and Portuguese next week.

Tourism

U.S. International Inbound Travel Won’t Fully Recover Until 2025

1 year ago

International inbound travel to the U.S. is projected to be at 63 percent and 75 percent of its pre-pandemic volume in 2022 and 2023, respectively, according to the U.S. Travel Association’s biannual forecast. At this rate, international travel won’t reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025.

The projected slump is worse than USTA’s June forecast of international travel reaching 67 percent of pre-pandemic 2019 levels and 82 percent in 2023, respectively, reflecting the loss of $8 million more visitors and $28 billion in spending over those two years.

The slow recovery is due to the ongoing delays at U.S. embassies to process visitor visas. First-time visitor visa applicants have to wait over average of 400 days in the top 10 source markets for travel to the United States, and markets such as Brazil, India and Mexico have experienced worsened wait times in recent months, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

Tourism

UAE Developer Nakheel Secures $4.6 Billion Financing to Develop Dubai Islands 

2 years ago

Dubai-based property developer Nakheel announced it has secured $4.6 billion in strategic financing deal to drive what it calls, “the new phase of growth.”

The amount includes refinancing of $3 billion, and additional funds of $1.6 billion.

The developer of Palm Jumeirah said that the finance would be utilised to accelerate the development of its new projects including Dubai Islands and other large waterfront projects.

Looking to redefine the concept of waterfront living, Nakheel announced its plan to develop another man-made island — Dubai Islands — situated along the emirate’s northern coastline, comprising five islands over a total area of 17 square kilometres.

The property developer said Dubai Islands would be home to over 80 resorts and hotels, including luxury and wellness resorts, boutique, family and eco-conscious hotels.

This year, Nakheel announced that it would also relaunch and rebrand Palm Jebel Ali, a project that has been left dormant since 2009.

Recently, one of the mansions at the Palm Jumeirah sold for $82 million, pegging it to be the most expensive house sale ever in Dubai.

The $4.6 billion financing reflects the confidence of the banking institutions in the strategic new focus of the company, a Nakheel spokesperson said.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Nakheel said that it has invested in building a strong assets portfolio and pipeline of new developments in the last two years.

The company attributed the robust growth of the Dubai real estate sector to regulatory reforms, such as the issuance of long-term visas, and an economy buoyed by the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors.

Tourism

Congress Introduces Bill to Reduce Visa Wait Times

2 years ago

U.S. Reps. María Elvira Salazar from Florida and Susie Lee from Nevada introduced the Visitor Visa Wait Time Reduction Act in Congress on Friday, a bill that aims to reduce the lengthy visa wait times that have hampered the U.S. tourism industry’s recovery.

The bill requires the State Department to outline specific steps to address this problem at each embassy or consulate where the wait time for a visitor visa appointment surpasses 100 days. And to directly reduce visa wait times, staff from State Department offices would be temporarily reassigned to diplomatic posts where the wait for a non-immigrant visa appointment exceeds 300 days.

“The current wait times for non-immigrant visas are totally unacceptable and the State Department must take action to address this,” Salazar said. “Many of my constituents are suffering from this backlog, which keeps them from seeing their family members and hurts our local businesses which rely on tourism.”

Tori Emerson Barnes, the executive vice President of public affairs and policy for the U.S. Travel Association, came out in support of the bill. The association’s economists reported on Thursday that the State Department’s delays in issuing visas could prevent 6.6 million people from traveling to next year, resulting in a loss of $11.6 billion in spending.

“We must stop turning away international travelers due to 400-plus day wait times that visitor visa applicants are facing worldwide. It is absolutely unacceptable and a significant deterrent to our national economic recovery,” Barnes said.

“Spending by international travelers is critical to getting the U.S. economy back on track, and reducing visa wait times and welcoming these visitors should be a focused national priority.”

Tags: tourism, visas

Airlines

Etihad CEO Poached by Saudi Arabia’s New Airline: Reports

2 years ago

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways CEO Tony Douglas has agreed to join RIA — Saudi Arabia’s newest airline, according to reports.

It had been earlier reported that RIA, the multi-billion-dollar international carrier, had approached Douglas for the top job. Douglas has apparently agreed and other senior Etihad executives may follow him, according to Arabian Business.

Global consulting firm Korn Ferry has been tasked with the job to find a replacement for Douglas, the publication added quoting sources.

The head hunting firm is said to be in preliminary talks with three senior aviation names for the top job at Etihad, even though employment offers haven’t yet been made, according to Bloomberg.   

Douglas has been leading Etihad since 2018. He had also served as the CEO of Abu Dhabi Airports Company and Abu Dhabi Ports Company, prior to which he was the chief operating officer and group chief executive designate of UK’s largest privately-owned construction company Laing O’Rourke.

Under Douglas’ leadership, Etihad had reported a record-breaking core operating profit of $296 million for the first half of 2022, despite fuel costs increasing by almost 60 percent compared to the same period in 2021.

“Etihad is emerging from the pandemic stronger than ever, with a world-class fleet, an unmatched customer proposition and sustainability woven into every fibre of our business,” Douglas had said while announcing the financial results.

As Saudi Arabia pivots from its oil-based economy, the tourism sector has been a strong focus for the country that was closed to tourists till 2019.

The introduction of tourist visas in September 2019, was followed by the introduction of electronic tourist visas this month for residents of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

With an ambitious goal to reach 100 million tourists per year by 2030, the kingdom has been hard working to expanding its international air connectivity. 

Riyadh-based RIA will be the second airline for the kingdom, national carrier Saudia operates from Jeddah. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has reportedly invested $30 billion to get the airline off the ground. 

Tourism

Japan to Reopen to Visa-Free Independent Tourists From October 11

2 years ago

It’s official — Japan has finally announced that it would allow visa-free entry to independent tourists, removing the daily cap on arrivals from October 11 onwards, after almost two-and-a-half years of stringent restrictions imposed during the pandemic.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made the announcement on Thursday in New York while attending the UN General Assembly.

Inbound arrivals would need to be vaccinated three times or would have to submit a pre-arrival negative result for a Covid-19 test, according to Kyodo News.

Before the pandemic, Japan allowed visa-free entry for short-term visitors from 68 countries, including the U.S.

To encourage domestic tourism, the Japanese government will also be bringing back the nationwide travel discount program that had been discontinued after the rise in Covid cases.

Dubbing the step an effort to support the tourism, entertainment and industries that have been the worst-affected during the pandemic, Kishida hoped news of the full reopening would encourage more people to be a part of the program.

While Japan had been easing restrictions in a phased manner even since it reopened to foreign tourists in June, the government still required tourists to apply for a short-term visa enter the country as part of approved package tours through a recognized travel agency.