UNWTO Encourages Travel Facilitation and Connectivity in Asia Pacific

The World Tourism Organization is to press ahead with its agenda of promoting easier travel facilitation, intelligent taxation and better connectivity within the Asia-Pacific region.

The policy agenda was avidly discussed at the 25th Joint Meeting of the UNWTO Commission for East Asia and the Pacific and South Asia (CAP-CSA) held last week in the Andhra Pradesh capital of Hyderabad.

UNWTO Secretary-General Mr. Taleb Rifai noted that although Asia and the Pacific was the world's fastest growing region in 2012 (+7% to 233 million international tourists), further facilitation could ensure that the growth is maintained and perhaps even exceeded in 2013.

Visa facilitation

Briefing delegates representing UNWTO Member States and their tourism sectors from around the region, Mr. Rifai said that following the important reference made to tourism and to the role of visa facilitation in stimulating growth and jobs in the Declaration of the G20 Leaders (June 2012), UNWTO has continued to advocate visa facilitation as a means to grow the tourism sector.

The issue was the theme of the 2012 UNWTO/WTM Ministers Summit in London and object of a dedicated debate at the 94th session of the UNWTO Executive Council, which mandated the Secretariat to “maintain visa facilitation as a priority in the work of the Secretariat and advance it through advocacy at the highest political level and the identification and dissemination of case studies” and “to advance it in close cooperation with other international and regional organizations”.

In January 2013, UNWTO published an in-depth report on the current “openness” of each world region in terms of visas for tourism. UNWTO is also working with WTTC to conduct an evaluation of the impact of visa facilitation in the economies of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries to be finalized by September 2013 and with Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the identification of case studies and setting of joint recommendations.

During the Joint Commission Meeting, Secretary-General Mr. Rifai noted that restrictive visa policies can mean lost opportunities for economic growth and jobs, which tourism can bring to destinations. Difficult visa policies can also be a deterrent to travel, as travellers view visas as an added formality involving a cost.

He said that improving visa processes could generate an extra US$ 206 billion in tourism receipts and create as many as 5.1 million additional jobs by 2015 in the G20 economies alone, as shown by joint research conducted by UNWTO and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

Asia and the Pacific is one of the world ́s two most "open" regions in terms of tourist visa requirements, with 20% of the world ́s population not requiring a visa to visit an Asian destination (19% can obtain visa on arrival and 7% can obtain eVisas when visiting Asia).

Data also shows that there has been significant progress on visa facilitation globally in recent years, particularly with the implementation of visa on arrival policies.

Mr. Rifai said that in preparation for a Special Tourism Ministerial Session of APEC to be held in October in Bali, Indonesia, UNWTO and WTTC are conducting a special study on travel facilitation for APEC economies.

UNWTO will also be working closely with ASEAN to pursue a similar agenda. At the ASEAN Tourism Forum (Vientiane, Laos, January 2013) under the theme of  ̈ASEAN: Hand in Hand, Conquering our Future," Mr. Rifai conveyed a message that encouraged the development of a common visa programme similar to that of the Schengen area to further facilitate travel within ASEAN countries.

Intelligent taxation

On the issue of taxation in the travel sector, Mr. Rifai told the CAP-CSA delegates in Hyderabad that UNWTO continues to advocate intelligent taxation, raising awareness of the need to evaluate the economic impact of the raise or introduction of new taxes on travel and tourism. A pilot project on a possible econometric model to assess the impact of changes in fiscal policies in tourism is underway.


As many as 51% of all international tourists arrive at their destinations by air, and the UNWTO Secretariat has started to work to raise global awareness of the importance of a closer relationship between tourism and aviation in order to ensure mutual benefits.

This agenda was launched with an address to the Member States of the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) at ICAO's Sixth Worldwide Air Transport Conference (18 March 2013) highlighting issues such as the need to review the current legislative framework, taxation, climate change and consumer protection, and appealing for increased cooperation between aviation and tourism both at national and international levels.

Delegates at the Joint CAP-CSA meetings warmly appreciated and applauded these moves.

India Accepts Open Letter on Travel and Tourism

Just before travelling to Hyderabad for the Joint Commission session, Mr. Rifai stopped over in New Delhi where, accompanied by Tourism Minister of State Mr. K. Chiranjeevi, he handed over an “Open Letter” to Indian Vice President Prof Dr Mohammad Hamid Ansari. The letter jointly signed by Mr. Rifai and Mr. David Scowsill, President and CEO, World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) urges world leaders to join hands with the leaders from the other countries as well as with UNWTO and WTTC to position travel and tourism higher on the global agenda.

The basic objective of this campaign is to send a message to the world to accord high priority to the development of the tourism sector for promoting employment opportunities and economic development. The campaign was launched in 2011 and till date 49 countries have joined by accepting the Open Letter.

Upcoming UNWTO activities in Asia and the Pacific

CAP-CSA delegates in attendance at the Joint Commission Meeting were also informed of the comprehensive list of upcoming UNWTO activities in 2013, including:

  • Launch of Study: Air Connectivity and its Impact on Tourism in Asia and the Pacific
  • UNWTO Affiliate Members´ Regional Summit (1-2 June, Seoul, ROK)
  • 2013 UNWTO Asia-Pacific Executive Training Programme on National Branding and Communications (3 – 6 June, Busan, ROK)
  • UNWTO International Conference on Silk Road Tourism (1 – 3 August, Dunhuang, China)
  • UNWTO's support to the 2nd Global Tourism Economy Forum (18 – 20 Sep. Macao, China)
  • World Tourism Day Celebrations (27 Sep. Maldives)
  • UNWTO's support to the Special Ministerial Session of APEC on Travel Facilitation (4 – 5 Oct. Bali, Indonesia)
  • 2012 World Tourism Conference (21-23 Oct, Melaka, Malaysia)
  • 7th UNWTO/PATA Forum on Tourism Trends and Outlook (21 – 23 Oct, Guilin, China)
  • UNWTO Regional Conference on Tourism Development in Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites (30 Oct. – 2 Nov. Siem Reap, Cambodia)
  • UNWTO Intl Conference on Spiritual Tourism (21 – 22 Nov TBC. Bai Dinh Pagoda, Ninh Binh, Viet Nam)