The world's travel and tourism industry has bounced back from a period when it seemed to be battered by every conceivable shock, from terrorism to disasters and prolonged economic crisis. Now on a path of growth once more, it has the potential to play a big role in helping to bring about a sustainable global economic recovery.
By some estimates, the industry already accounts for one in 11 of the world's jobs. This was explicitly recognized by leaders at the G20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico in 2012, who noted in a communiqué that the industry could become a global engine of growth. Not only does the industry excel in the creation of high-volume, entry-level positions that are badly needed to get people off benefits and back in work but also it represents a recognized route for economies to diversify into higher-value activities such as creative industries and the like.
The combination of more and better jobs is one that no country can ignore. The question is how to make it happen. This will require genuine, cross-sectoral, multistakeholder collaboration and the World Economic Forum's Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013 assesses how these diverse interests can best meet this challenge.
The report provides an insight into how countries are fostering the effectiveness of their travel and tourism industries. By ranking each country around three main pillars -- regulatory framework; business environment & infrastructure; and cultural and natural resources - the report aims to provide a benchmark for policy-makers and the industry while at the same time giving the industry a way of highlighting to policy-makers areas that need specific attention.
What do we learn from Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013? Switzerland, in the top spot in the global rankings that it has held since the report was initiated in 2007, continues to demonstrate the virtues of excellent facilities, highly trained staff and well-maintained natural resources. The report also demonstrates, that despite the current economic turmoil and the Euro's instability, Europe continues to display strength in travel and tourism, with seven of the top 10 ranked countries, including Germany in second place, Austria in third and Spain in fourth. It also suggests that the BRICS and other leading emerging markets have some ground to cover in terms of their improving their T&T regulatory frameworks, business environments and infrastructure in order to maximise the benefits from their often huge wealth of cultural and natural resources.
Looking ahead, possibly the single most effective tool for driving global growth through travel and tourism that the report recognizes is a sweeping reform of the visa system. In too many countries -- especially the rapidly developing countries where new middle classes are vital to a sustainable economy -- visa processes deter people from travelling.
The World Travel and Tourism Council believes that improving visa processes would enable G20 countries to welcome 112 million more international visitors annually. Recent reforms by the Obama administration show what a difference easier visa procedures can make. With a push to reduce waiting times for U.S. visas in China from more than 60 days to less than a week, the number of applications rose by almost 40 percent to over 1 million in a year. Given that the U.S. Travel Association estimates that the average visitor from China to the United States spends about $7,000 per visit, not including airfares, the economic impact is highly significant.
Visa-free travel, as exists within the European Union, is clearly a long way from happening globally. However, there is scope for expansion of "visa sharing," in which states are willing to trust visas issued by friendly neighbours, such as between the UK and Ireland and Mexico and the United States. Another promising approach that could enable travel without compromising security considerations is SMART Visa and Border, a mixture of online visa procedures and faster border crossing with a high level of security checks.
The World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on New Models for Travel & Tourism is actively working with the public and private sector to draft a blueprint for such a model and indeed smart visa policy is rising up regional agendas, notably in ASEAN and the Pacific Alliance.
One other area of concern highlighted in the report is the need for governments and industry to collaborate on the necessary steps to ensure social and environmental sustainability. Sustainability of the travel and tourism industry depends on every effort being made to maintain the host environment as well as address its social and cultural impacts, particularly local culture, by ensuring that local people are given training and other resources, allowing them to reap the benefits of tourism.
Here, progress is being made; the aviation industry is possibly the only global industry to have a plan to become CO2 neutral by 2020 and much has been done by the hospitality industry to develop energy efficient standards for building as well as training people and sourcing products locally. That said, more can and needs to be done by the industry to reduce environmental and social impact while fulfilling its growth potential.
Policymakers and the industry can ill afford to neglect these messages if travel and tourism is to play its rightful role in the global economic recovery.