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UN: America and Asia Pacific 'open' regions for tourist entry

Posted on Jan 29, 11:41AM | IBNS

The Americas along with Asia and the Pacific were found to be the most 'open' regions for tourists in terms of requiring a visa to visit their countries, while European destinations had higher visa restriction levels, according to a United Nations study released Monday.

In its research, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) looked at the percentage of people who could enter each country without a visa, obtain a visa on arrival, or apply for an electronic visa in 2012, as opposed to going through the traditional visa application process.

In the case of Asia and the Pacific, an average of 20 percent of the world's population were not required a visa to enter, 19 percent could get a visa on arrival, and only 7 percent needed to apply for an electronic visa.

For the Americas, the percentages were 31 percent, 8 percent, and 1 percent, respectively.

In Europe 21 percent of the world population does not require a visa. However, in contrast to the other two regions, only 6 percent are able to apply for a visa on arrival and no electronic visa system is in place.

"An overall restrictive visa policy means lost opportunities for economic growth and jobs, which tourism could bring to destinations," said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai. "Travellers regard visas as a formality which entails a cost. This can be a deterrent to travel if costs - whether monetary or indirect - including distance, wait times and service, exceed a certain threshold."

The research showed that overall, considerable progress has been made to facilitate visas over recent years as the requirement of a traditional tourist visa went from 77 percent of the world's population in 2008 to 63 per cent in 2012, with significant changes over the last two years.

Since 2010, 43 destinations facilitated the visa process for citizens of at least 20 countries by changing their visa policies to ease entry.

"Important strides have been made in recent times in terms of visa facilitation as more and more countries understand its implicit economic benefits," Rifai said.

"We welcome moves by the United States, the European Union and many other countries which have implemented or are looking into implementing more open visa policies, but we cannot ignore that visa procedures still represent an obstacle to tourism growth and we hope that these good examples can be followed by others."

According to joint research conducted by UNWTO and the World Travel and Tourism Council, improving visa processes could generate an extra USD 206 billion in tourism receipts and create as many as 5.1 million additional jobs by 2015 in economies that are part of the Group of 20 (G20) alone.

As a result of this work, G20 leaders attending the group's summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, last June recognized tourism as "a vehicle for job creation, economic growth and development" and committed to "work towards developing travel facilitation initiatives in support of job creation, quality work, poverty reduction and global growth."