When Teddy Roosevelt, America’s 26th president, decided to explore the Amazon 100 years ago, he spent more than a year planning the trip.

Today, a 21st-century traveller watching TV could be inspired to pick up their iPad during a commercial break, book a cheap flight, find a hotel, sign up for an Amazon river cruise on TripAdvisor, and be ready to start their adventure within a couple of days.

Except for one hitch. From the US, they’d need a visa, which could take a month or more during the busy season. They might also need to travel to one of the 10 Brazilian consulates in the US to submit documents, and by then the inspiration may have faded. A similar process would be required of any Brazilian inspired to visit Disney World.

My sister-in-law booked a flight to Peru this week to join her daughters on a long-planned graduation trip to Lima, Cusco and Machu Pichu. The girls had been planning the trip for six months, but Sherri was able to find a cheap flight online, and make her plans a few days before the planned departure. Peru doesn’t require a visa for American travellers, so there was no delay.

The 21st-century traveller has high expectations for efficiency and a low tolerance for barriers to global mobility, according to a new white paper produced by the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on New Models of Travel & Tourism, in which I participate. Unfortunately, the infrastructure and bureaucracy travellers must navigate are a throw-back to Roosevelt’s time. In 2013, two-thirds of the world’s population had to obtain a visa before travelling to destinations around the world – often with significant delays, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

These barriers are not merely an inconvenience. They operate like other trade barriers, impeding economic growth and depressing job creation in countries that have not opened their doors. Given how the smartphone has transformed the way we communicate and conduct commerce, isn’t it time governments starting reaping the benefits of smart visas, smart borders, smart security and smart infrastructure?

How do we get to this 21st-century connected world? The Forum’s group of ministers and travel industry members propose that:

  • Making travel easier become a pillar of bilateral and regional trade discussions and agreements.
  • Governments explore new technology, such as e-visas and the expansion of common visa areas, in which travellers can move freely between multiple countries, as with the Schengen visa in Europe.
  • Countries share data, and government agencies adopt an integrated solution to safe travel that begins with the visa application, classifies risk level, then tracks the traveller through airport screening and border control – all without the current processes that fail to enhance security.

Today’s travellers can joyously explore new worlds on their smart device, as they dream of the places they’ll go, zoom in on specific locations with Google map, book a room to stay in and even scan restaurant menus in advance.  Making those dreams a reality requires only a credit card and a tap on the screen.

I glimpsed the future of travel this week, returning from a business trip to London, where I cruised through Heathrow’s newly opened Queen’s Terminal 2. After picking up my boarding pass at one of the many United Airlines desks, I sped through fully automated ticket and passport control, experienced no lines, and arrived at my gate within 15 minutes. Upon arrival at Dulles Airport, as a “trusted traveller” I raced through Global Entry, and eluded the lines again. This is precisely the smart travel experience the Forum envisions, and we should expect, so that always we’re looking forward to the next trip.

Read our report, Smart Travel: Unlocking Economic Growth and Development through Travel Facilitation

Author: Kathleen Matthews is Executive Vice-President and Chief Global Communications and Public Affairs Officer, Marriott International, USA and Chair of the Global Agenda Council on New Models of Travel & Tourism

Image: A new British biometric passport is shown under ultra-violet light to demonstrate its new embedded security features at the British Embassy in Washington. REUTERS/Jason Reed