WTTC has been focusing a lot of the liberalisation of visa policy. You must be aware that travellers have a problem getting Indian visa, so how have your interactions with the Ministry of External Affairs been now, in the past or if you plan to do so in the near future, to address this issue?
Let me give you the general picture first. Last year at the G20 Summit, president Felipe Calderón of Mexico tabled some research that WTTC and UNWTO had produced on this whole issue of visas. What the research basically said was that within the G20 countries if the prime ministers and presidents made a concerted effort to start removing some of the basic constraints then it would stimulate the economy to the tune of another $270 billion and create five million jobs. The research basically says that if India, China, UK, US and Russia take this issue seriously then it will start a domino effect of removing these constraints. So I need to come back and sit with the foreign ministry and interior ministry in India and explain to them very clearly the benefits of removing some of the visa constraints. I appreciate that there is always a bilateral discussion between different governments, and one government always needs to make the move first.
Have there been any developments post the G20 Summit?
Since president Calderón had the G20 leaders focus on this in June last year, we’ve seen a huge amount of changes around the world with different countries relaxing their visa policies. We have seen changes happen now, in the last 12 months the whole industry has been speaking with one voice on the visa issue. Ultimately we have to make everyone concentrate on electronic visa processing, which is what Australia does so effectively. So you bypass all bureaucracy and transact with the consumer over the internet, check them behind the scenes and assuming you are happy with them to come into your country you give electronic visa. It is a question of a lot of discussions at a very high level. To give you an example, some of the work that we do with UNWTO is that we have a Global Leaders for Tourism Programme, which means that Taleb Rifai and myself go and sit down with presidents and prime ministers to talk about four-five key things that they really need to understand, and one of first ones on the list is always the visas. I have been awaiting for a date to come and meet with the prime minister of India, to have a conversation directly with him about visas, taxation and whole range of issues. We’ve been to 45 presidents and prime ministers in the last 18 months.
Which are the three most important factors that India needs to focus on for development of tourism?
It is very important for the Indian government to relax visa processing, visa on arrival is the first step. The cost of visas also needs to be reduced. Then India should work towards the ultimate of electronic visa processing like Australia. The interior ministry and security forces have to do a lot of work in their back office systems to enable this. All the background checks have to be in an automated fashion. The second important issue is taxation, the Indian government is taxing the airline industry too high which is counterproductive. The message to the government is to be very careful about overtaxing the airline industry. The third factor is to continue the progress around the infrastructure, built to cope with the huge explosion of travellers that we are about to see – domestic Indian travellers as well as international travellers coming to India.
What will be the focus of WTTC Global Summit in Abu Dhabi this year?
We are now moving to running three events every year – the Global Summit which is happening in Abu Dhabi, and two regional summits, one of which will be in Seoul this year. The theme of the Abu Dhabi summit is ‘Time for Leadership’ and the message is that the industry should step up to take a leadership role and solve some of the issues around visas, taxation, etc. Former US president Bill Clinton is also coming to the summit. We will have very good forward looking sessions on where the airline industry is headed.
After Japan WTTC’s next global summit is in Abu Dhabi and now you are initiating a regional summit in Asia, is the focus of WTTC shifting to Asia because maximum tourism growth is happening here ? How do you align that with your long-term strategy?
If you look at all the statistics for the next 10 years, travel and tourism in Asia is growing very fast, it is being driven mainly by China and a little bit coming from India. In terms of our events, we move our summits around the world – Japan was significant as it was one year after the tsunami and earthquake, we had to help them. In 2014 we plan to come to Hainan in China for the global summit.
Please tell us a bit more about all the associations speaking in a unified voice?
We now have a travel association coalition with UNWTO, IATA, PATA, USTA. It is important that all associations should speak the same language. Currently we are all talking about visas. After that we will focus on taxation.
How do you see the evolution of WTTC India Initiative?
WTTC India Initiative is unique, it does not exist in any other country, and it is very, very effective. The reason why it is so effective is that you have 25 top businesses in India – airlines, tour operators, hoteliers, get together and operate in the same way as WTTC does globally, inside India. They produce detailed reports, research and information, and present the findings to the ministers of tourism and finance. They decide what the key issues are that the government needs to work on and speak together with one voice.
Tourism is a great employment generator, yet why do governments not give the sector the importance that it deserves?
Most politicians take travel and tourism for granted. They believe that it happens magically and they don’t need to worry about it. They worry about economy and finances, agriculture and other industries. We’ve produced a research recently which is also on our website which compares our industry with others like automobile, chemical and it shows consistently that in every country travel and tourism is six times bigger than eg motor manufacturing in terms of the number of people it employs. It is about getting the data in the right place, irrefutable research about the jobs generated by tourism, contribution to GDP.
(With inputs from Reema Lokesh)