World breaks down visa barriers

39% of people can now travel overseas without the need for a pre-arranged visa
39% of people can now travel overseas without a pre-arranged visa

The countries of the world are gradually easing visa restrictions and removing barriers to travel, a new study has found.

In its latest Visa Openness Report, the UNWTO revealed that 39% of the world’s population can now travel overseas without the need to obtain a visa prior to departure. This compares to just 23% in 2008 and marks the lowest level in history.

On average, 18% of global travellers were able to travel to a destination without a visa in 2015, while another 15% could receive a visa-on-arrival and 6% were able to obtain e-visas.

And emerging economies continue to be more open than more developed nations. Southeast Asia, East Africa, the Caribbean and Oceania remain the most open parts of the world, while North America is one of the most restrictive regions.

“Prioritising travel facilitation is central to stimulating economic growth and job creation through tourism. We are pleased to see that a growing number of governments around the world think likewise,” said UNWTO secretary-general, Taleb Rifai. “The current security challenges should not deter us from advancing visa facilitation. On the contrary, enhancing security and facilitating tourism travel should always go hand in hand.

“In fact, at a moment when safety and security are top of the agenda for all of us, we need to work closer together to promote a safe, secure and seamless travel environment by using the possibilities offered by technology and international cooperation in data sharing,” he added.

Significant steps were made in Asia in 2015, with regards to the easing of visa regulations. Indonesia has started offering visa-free travel to the citizens of 174 countries and territories, and India expanded its e-tourist visa system to 113 countries. Vietnam and Kazakhstan have also started offering visa-free travel to several countries, and Thailand launched a new multiple-entry visa.

But despite these and other efforts, the UNWTO said that “several areas of opportunity remain” for destinations. The tourism body recommends focusing on a stronger segmentation of travellers, improving visa application processes and entry procedures, making use of regional integration opportunities, and improving the information provided to tourists.

It also urged countries “not to depend on reciprocal improvements”, but rather revise their own visa rules independently of other countries.

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