Japan has placed tourism at the centre of its growth strategy and inbound tourism has emerged as one of the important engines of economic growth in Japan in recent years. Japan achieved its target of 20 million inbound tourists by 2020 five year early and the revised target stands at 40 million today. In the last three years (2015-2017) it has recorded robust year on year growth of 20 per cent as inbound arrivals grew from 19.7 million to over 24 million and has now reached almost 28.7 million at the end 2017. Japan’s decision to relax its Visa rules for China and its other Asian neighbours has emerged as the biggest reason in the turnaround of its tourism fortune.
In 2016, Indonesia probably came up with one of the most pathbreaking Visa policy in the world as it announced free Visa for citizens from 169 countries, including India, which was hailed by UNWTO as “setting example to the world.” As a consequence to that Indian arrival to Indonesia has grown by 30 per cent in 2017 with about 500,000 Indians visiting the country last year and replacing South Korea to emerge Indonesia’s sixth largest source market. In the wake the two countries have also witnessed significant direct air capacity growth in recent time.
World over Visa reforms have proven to be critical in the growth of travel and tourism as is evident in Japan’s case. Moderated by Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) President Sunil Kumar, the session on ‘Visa Reforms and Growth in Tourism’ at Silver Jubilee edition of SATTE last month included Şakir Özkan Torunlar, Turkish Ambassador to India; Dr Ahmed A R Albanna UAE Ambassador to India; Jagdishwar Goburdhan, High Commissioner of Mauritius to India and Mahendra Vakharia, President, Outbound Tour Operators Association of India (OTOAI), to delve deep on Visa reforms impact on tourism growth with a view of growing security concerns the world over.
Setting the tone for the discussion Kumar pointed at the burgeoning Indian outbound travel market that is projected to become a 50 million outbound travel market and how amidst increasing recognition of this fastest growing source markets, Indian travellers are being wooed with as many as 58 countries today attracting Indian tourist with Visa free travel, Visa on Arrival or easy access of Visa through eVisa application. He asked the panellist what impact Visa reforms will have on tourism while at the same keeping the security concerns in mind.
Highlighting the fact that tourism contributes a staggering 18 per cent to UAE’s GDP, Albanna pointed that ease in obtaining UAE Visa figures prominently in the UAE’s plan to further develop tourism and grow the sector’s GDP share in the UAE economy to 25 per cent in the coming years. “Looking at the need to relax the Visa rules for tourism growth, the government has made it possible for the citizens of more than 38 nations to enter UAE without prior Visa. Aside from that the industry itself in terms of airlines, whether Emirates Airlines or Etihad or Air Arabia or flydubai, are able to issue for their own passengers, visit or transit Visa. Similarly the hotel industry is also allowed to issue the required Visa for the different nationals who are visiting the UAE.”
Further adding on Visa reforms he said, “I think it is very important that we control in certain ways, but control does not mean prevention. Control in terms of keeping your own security and making sure that people are safe. But at the same time we open in terms of tourism. The tourism industry is very important.”
Recalling how as 19 year old when he obtained his first Greek Visa and could travel as backpack for months without any Visa requirement from any of the remaining countries that he travelled through, Torunlar said, “Today a Turkish Universities student needs to spend weeks to apply and get his Visa for the same countries I travelled to in 1979. Today not only Europe but the entire world has become more conservative in issuing Visas to foreigners.” He however also pointed that the successive Turkish government has always been in favour of Visa free travel. “The nationals of foreign countries who need to get Visa for Turkey are the citizens of the countries whose government prefer to implement Visa on Turkish nationals and restrict them. In such case Turkey acts on the basis of reciprocal system.”
Furthermore, he said, “Turkey is one of the top tourism destinations in the world and to make it sustainable Turkey has been implementing eVisa to the nationals of 110 countries, including Indians, who hold valid US, the UK and Schengen Visas. Any applicant who has access to internet may get his Visa in three steps in less than three minutes. The results proved that the number of tourist visiting Turkey has increased by millions.”
Goburdhan while informing that Mauritius today offers Visa free travel to more than 114 countries whose citizens can stay for days or months, has also greatly helped Mauritius promote its business and trade along while growing its tourism economy. Furthermore taking tourism and security concerns directly, he said, “Tourism is a wonderful industry, very humanitarian, helping so many countries and helping in countering terrorism. The best thing is for the countries to eliminate Visa in line with the philosophy of ‘Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’ (The world is one family).”
Referring to a question on the future of travel in regard to Visa, Albanna said, “We need to open up and we need not to prevent. But the control has always to be there. In today’s world lots of things are happening. The limitation has to be there within certain reason and limitations has to be there within certain procedures.”
Responding to expectations of a world with minimal or free of Visa requirement, Torunlar said, “I cannot see this happening tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or anytime in the predictable future. We may take 9/11 which has changed the global atmosphere in Visa free travel. Today we are two countries here from the same region where people in neighbouring countries are suffering domestic violence in their countries. They are not travelling to the neighbouring countries for tourism but they are fleeing brutal regimes fleeing from where they were living for generations. On the other hand there are countries who are discussing whether to allow 24 or 48 of these people. All this can also be combined with economic bottlenecks in trade and investment, and the problems that governments are facing in terms of employment. I think this Visa free travel will not happen in my generation or generation of my son.”
Referring to the need to provide the tour operators across centres with consulates or Visa facilitation centre as well as the need of easy Visa access, Vakharia said, “India is a last minute market. So when they decide at the spur of the moment that they want to go on a holiday, countries which have Visa on arrival facilities or countries which have extended the online facilities really get the advantage. Something like this is what encourages tourist to look at a destination or a tour operator to identify destinations and push it through to the client.” Furthermore he advocated the need of dialogue between the embassies and trade to ensure that tourism continues to thrive while at the same time safety and security concerns of the governments are also duly acknowledged by the industry.
Taking note of what ambassadors of UAE and Turkey said in terms of air connectivity between India and their respective countries, Kumar pointed that Visa reforms and good air connectivity need to go hand in hand. He said, “Its Visa facility connected with flights. 1070 flights (Number of weekly flights between India and UAE) they get 5 million Indians and 14 (Number of weekly flights between India and Turkey) and they just get about less than 100,000 visitors.”