Visa restrictions deter many thousands of international tourists from crossing borders each year, and the “T20” Tourism Ministers’ recent declaration advocating an easing of the barriers sends an important message to G20 leaders now meeting in Mexico: Helping the tourism sector would help the global economy.
Few understand this imperative better than U.S. President Barack Obama. The U.S. market share of spending by international travellers has plummeted by 30 per cent in a decade – a direct result of visa measures taken in response to perceived threats to national security. The President was recently forced to issue an executive order expediting visa processing services and expanding the Visa Waiver Program.
Canada has similarly been hurt by its decision to slap a visa requirement on Mexican travellers to Canada, a move adopted to reduce refugee claims from that country. After Canada required Mexicans to obtain a visa, the number of annual visitors dropped by 36 per cent in 2009 and 28 per cent in 2010. To its credit (and no doubt in part because of its reliance on Canadian tourists), Mexico did not retaliate. However, Canada’s application of visa requirements on other countries, such as Turkey, has resulted in Canadians in turn being forced to obtain visas and pay costly fees.
David Scowsill, the president and CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council, which held its Summit of the Americas at Riviera Maya, in conjunction with the T20 meetings, said, “It’s critical to get a balance between countries protecting their security and sovereign state, with the commercial need to bring more customers to spend money in those countries.”
Gloria Guevara, Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism and host of the T20 meeting, argued easing visa regulations is crucial to strengthening international tourism, a sector that has seen modest growth despite the global economic malaise. As the G20 host, Mexican President Felipe Calderón will present the visa declaration to the leaders.
There are legitimate reasons for countries to impose visas, to limit the abuse of immigration and refugee systems and over matters of national security. But governments must constantly review these policies, improve systems and actively remove visa requirements when possible.