Saturday, 17 March 2012

Relax the visa rules to aid tourism and growth says EU chief.

Commissioner urges liberalisation of application procedures to attract more visitors across Europe.

15 March 2012

Countries should push through a major liberalisation of their visa regimes in order to attract more tourists from around the world and boost economic growth across the European Union, according to a senior Brussels Commissioner.

"We need a more modern visa policy which can attract the growing middle classes in Russia, China, India and Brazil," Antonio Tajani, the European Commissioner responsible for tourism, told The Independent in London yesterday. "I am at the beginning of this work. It's not easy to change our rules. But it's possible."

In January, US President Barack Obama overhauled the application system for tourist visas to America in a drive to encourage more visitors from China and Brazil. Mr Tajani said: "Why did Obama change? Because the tourist sector is important for the US. I am in favour of doing some thinking along similar lines in Europe."

Mr Tajani said that tourism has long been a neglected "cinderella" industry and that it was time for European states to regard the sector as essential for growth, especially in those southern European states which are still suffering in the eurozone sovereign debt crisis.

At the moment, tourists from outside the EU must apply for a visa from the local consulate of an individual member state.

The visa allows a person to stay for a maximum of three months and permits free movement within the 26 nations of the European Schengen area (of which Britain is not a member). In 2010, EU member states issued over 11 million visas. Mr Tajani said that member states' concerns about security and illegal immigration were valid, but that they should not stand in the way of a liberalisation of visa rules and procedures.

The liberalisation proposal is likely to encounter resistance because some European governments, under pressure from their populations, are attempting to curb migration flows within Europe and from outside.

Europe is already the number one tourist destination in the world. Last year the European Union enjoyed a 6 per cent increase in international tourist arrivals. Greek tourist numbers were up 14 per cent, and 13 per cent in Ireland, 11 per cent in Portugal and8 per cent in Spain.

The direct contribution of travel and tourism to European GDP in 2011 was €508.1bn (£425.8bn) and the sector supported around 7.3 million jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. When related sectors are taken into account, tourism accounts for 10 per cent of the EU's total output and 12 per cent of its labour force, according to the European Commission.

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