Blinders on visas: It’s everywhere you want to be but cannot.

For some two decades, Visa, the giant global payments technology company, had a highly catchy ad slogan (It's everywhere you want to be) that touted its universal acceptability and availability. The slogan's latter day avatar simply suggests that "more people go with Visa". If only that were the case for its bureaucratic namesake; visas that are required for most people to go where they want to be.  

At the recently concluded world tourism fair in Berlin, the annual refrain has for the past several years been the lack of access for tourists from countries like China where outbound tourism growth is the fastest at 30%. An overwhelming majority (75%) of Chinese travelers travel within their
continent principally due to the lack of visa requirements.

More tellingly, Chinese tourists are keen on experiencing individual travel with their internal economic boom and fascination with technology driving that desire to travel solo. The stories repeats itself for travelers from other up and coming nations like Russia (which despite the formidable visa obstacles leads the BRIC countries for outbound travel), Brazil and India.

The visa regimen of the western world, many with stagnant if not receding economies, could more than any other region make the right inference and come up with an intelligent liberalization of their visa procedures without compromising national security issues. They could do so by using measures that enable greater access to consular officials including via video-chat to ascertain the bona-fides of prospective travelers. But in a perverse inversion of logic two notoriously illiberal visa countries, the UK and the US, seem intent on making it harder for the newly wealthy and mobile traveler from the BRIC countries.

With regard to the UK, a blog post in the Economist chronicles with characteristic forcefulness the absurdity of that country's visa process  which "requires Chinese tourists to fill in a ten-page form with
biometric registration requirements—in English. Unsurprisingly, they
have stayed away in their droves. Only 18% of Chinese visitors to Europe
make it to Britain, but two-thirds visit France." Compounding error with folly, the UK is now considering revoking its visa-free status for Brazilians. The US on the other hand steadfastly refuses visa-free entry to Brazilians who nevertheless amount to nearly a million visitors to New York City alone and outspend their English counterparts 10 to 1 while taking in the sites of the Big Apple.

Apropos the foregoing, The World Economic Forum, a body that earlier this month issued its Travel and Tourism Competitiveness report that at "$6.3 trillion in 2011, or 9.1% of total worldwide GDP, the impact of Travel & Tourism is larger than that of some of the largest manufacturing sectors namely automotive and chemicals manufacturing. The industry currently directly employs 98 million people." All that from the annual movement of tourists which today stands at 1 billion and even with the numerous bureaucratic barriers is slated to double in fifteen years. Those figures make it hard to understand the intransigence of unrelenting policy makers who seem intent on stifling the fastest growing aspect of most nations' economy. 



Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.