Kathleen Matthews addresses the future of travel and tourism

In 2013, travel and tourism are going places. More than most industries, we are the beneficiary of a demographic dividend, as the rising middle class families of China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies have money in their pockets and are able to realize their life-long dream to see the world.

This social and economic trend is not lost on governments, which now recognize that travel is trade and that it can boost exports and create new jobs. That’s why we’re starting to see some real progress in addressing the persistent barriers to travel, including inefficient visa policies.

In 2012, more than 1 billion people travelled outside their national borders, which was a historic milestone. As a result, travel and tourism have been creating jobs 16% faster than other sectors coming out of the recession. For every 35 overseas visitors who come to the US, for example, the US Travel Association estimates that we create one new job in America.

Moreover, the employment benefits of growing travel and tourism are shared by both developed and developing countries. Today, our industry supports 255 million people (one in 12 jobs) and generates US$ 6.3 trillion, or 9%, of global GDP.

But as impressive as these numbers are, we need to look ahead to promote mobility for the second billion global nomads. This is one of the reasons that travel and tourism industry CEOs came to Davos: to promote “smart visa” policies that will facilitate freedom of travel, improve the customer experience, grow the global economy and improve the state of the world, without compromising security.

This is the opportunity we’ll discuss at the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit on 9-10 April in Abu Dhabi, at the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Peru on 23-25 April and at the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Myanmar in June. The goal is to get ministers of foreign affairs, security, commerce and tourism to work together on common solutions that seize the economic opportunity.

WTTC estimates that G20 countries could generate 122 million more international travellers by improving visa processes and facilitating travel. This would create an extra US$ 206 in tourism exports and create 5 million new jobs.

Near-term solutions include streamlining the bureaucratic process within governments. For example, the United States generated more than 1 million visas for Chinese visitors in 2012 (a 40% increase) by reducing waiting times for the requisite in-person interview from 60-100 days to less than one week. Bilateral agreements, such as visa waiver for South Korea, have doubled visitation to the US from that country.

Regionally we’re seeing progress, with ASEAN and Latin American countries negotiating regional visa-free travel, similar to the visa-free travel within the EU. Today, Ireland and Mexico welcome – visa-free – visitors who have visas to neighbouring the UK and US, respectively.

Eventually, we should be able to reconcile these visa-free zones with multilateral agreements that promote real freedom of travel, without compromising security. To get there, governments need to cooperate and share data, harness technology and move online to paperless “e-visas”, possibly embedded into airline tickets and passports. It’s heartening to see that some of those discussions are finally happening, as government recognize the low-hanging fruit that’s waiting to be harvested.

Our 2020 vision is a world where smart visas facilitate 2 billion global travellers who are enjoying all the rewards of travel, boosting global employment through new tourism jobs, enhancing business revenues to fuel investment and new tax receipts to improve infrastructure. This is the “resilient dynamism” that we discussed in Davos and will provide a roadmap for a smarter future.

Read the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013

Kathleen Matthews, Executive Vice-President and Chief Global Communications and Public Affairs Officer, Marriott International and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on New Models of Travel and Tourism

Image: A passenger plane is seen flying in front of the moon REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi