According to the United States Department of Commerce, 2006 was a record-setting year for the travel and tourism industry, and 2007 is expected to show double-digit growth. These numbers are critical to uphold, as travel and tourism represents seven percent of America’s overall economy. That’s more than agriculture or automobiles.
To ensure continued travel and tourism success in an increasingly complex environment, it is crucial that consumers remain happy, loyal and flying. The best way to ensure travelers’ satisfaction is to deliver a streamlined domestic and international travel experience. At the same time, the industry must excel at addressing security needs. After all, we know that just one incident can rock the entire country, paralyze the travel industry and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. How to constantly balance these seemingly conflicting needs is the trillion-dollar question.
The good news is that a travel tool called eVisa is helping to simplify and secure international travel.
For consumers, eVisas offer a paperless alternative to traditional visas, resulting in fast processing as well as reduced paperwork. Also, with eVisas, common concerns about document and visa loss are alleviated. For governments, the eVisa system provides enhanced security, functioning as virtual checkpoints at the time of application, during check-in and at the port of entry. Paperwork is essentially non-existent, and eVisas can be self-funding, with hardly, if any, new infrastructure needed by the travel industry.
THE APPLICATION PROCESSA passenger can apply for an eVisa through a travel agent, or by applying through a government Internet portal. Information is then sent through the SITA iBorders system, via the SITA network, to the participating government. Because the data is digital and uses existing information standards, the receiving government is able to instantly check and render an eVisa issuance decision. In most cases, passengers are issued eVisas within two to three seconds.
On the date of travel, the airline can check that the passenger has an eVisa prior to issuing the boarding pass. When an eVisa is denied, the passenger is directed to the appropriate consular office to apply in person.
SUCCESS STORIESAustralia has been especially successful implementing its eVisa program, which is free for non-business travelers. Approximately, three million people per year take advantage of the system, which also offers online renewal options.
The United States is considering expansion of its Visa Waiver Program. Today, the U.S. has partnered with 27 countries whose citizens can enter the U.S. for tourism or short-term business without a visa. These countries provide reciprocal visa-free travel for U.S. citizens. The challenge lies in expanding the program while also improving security.
Although digital documentation is just one tool, this initial step seems to be working. Record numbers hit in 2006, with almost three million international visitors spending an unprecedented $1.2 trillion in the United States. The Department of Commerce estimates that the escalation will continue at a rate of four percent per year until at least 2011.
A few markets are providing the bulk of the fuel. Western European visitors hold the top spot for international travel to the U.S. and experts project growth will remain consistent or higher than average. Commerce with emerging markets, particularly China, India and South Korea, will likely drive an explosion of visitation from Asian countries. Many of these countries are already members of the Visa Waiver Program, but several key markets are not represented within program membership.
For the U.S. to remain a significant hub of commerce, the government and travel industry will need to work hand-in-hand with the rest of the world to ensure seamless, safe international travel. Expanding the Visa Waiver Program is an important step, but the key to achieving borderless skies will require complete global interoperability. When that vision is realized, our skies will be secure, consumers will enjoy the greatest ease and enjoyment of travel, and our economy will reap the benefits.