In over 20 years, ETOA has achieved a level of authority and expertise in the tour operator and incoming European tourism sector
Visas, border processes and EU and national tourism policy
Visa application requirements are the first experience of a country’s officialdom for some, but everyone experiences arrival at one of Europe’s gateways. The extent to which visitors feel they are welcome and properly catered to during their stay varies. Do citizens of Europe’s tourism destinations welcome visitors, or begrudge the effect tourism has, or both? Impressions matter: if an airport is pleasant, the immigration process polite and efficient and the luggage delivered without delay, all is well. Is this the common experience? Many visitors are asked detailed personal questions about their personal circumstances and finances. The queues for immigration can seem interminable. The environment within which this long wait occurs is often unnecessarily unfriendly and institutional.
Border processes affect future travel intention and recommendations. Many destinations provide insufficient information and service for visitors. Do public transport system offer enough information in enough languages? While not all tourist sites can afford to provide multi-lingual services and nor should this be expected, how may such sites still be enjoyed by visitors from all over the world? Are people trained in cultural difference in the expectation of clients from various countries? Do shops and restaurants cater to visitors? Need border processes ever feel hostile or disrespectful? Can we do better in setting expectations in origin markets of what paperwork might be demanded and what questions asked?
Since the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Commission (EC) has had ‘joint competence’ along with the EU’s nation states in regulation and policy to do with tourism. The EC’s tourism unit is part of the Directorate General of Industry and Enterprise, and has had a higher profile in the last few years; it is set to grow.
Current priorities include the promotion of low-season tourism through a network of National Tourism Organisations, industry associations, airlines, tour operators and other interested parties.
Europe, rather than individual countries, is discussed both as a brand and a destination. The EC provided €1 million in 2012 to ETC (the European Travel Commission) to implement their joint declaration at the European Tourism Forum in 2011; an external PR company (Mostra) has been engaged to explore European Tourism’s potential so both finance and intent are apparent. ETOA seeks to be involved in consultation as the main representative body of incoming tour operators.
EU bodies are well placed to improve the success of tourism in Europe. It appears to ETOA that the main areas of pro-EU economic opportunity are: taxation; regulation; visas. Product or market initiatives should be planned in consultation with industry.
The EC’s 2010 policy communication
The EC’s implementation plan of that policy
European Tourism Forum activity to date
In the event of terrorist incident, act of god, or health scare, clear, accurate and effective communication is essential to prevent disproportionate response.
Consumers and industry are most influenced by information from an organisation they know and trust. Organisations based in origin markets are more credible.
EU tourism is vulnerable to scare stories, and origin markets may be resistant to positive messaging. It is imperative that international relationships between tourism bodies evolve a close collaboration to mutual benefit.
Visa requirements and processes influence inbound tourism to Europe. Where they exist, issues range from lack of online processes or mother-tongue application forms to inconsistent documentary requirements; difficulties with appointments to cost of appearing in person. Visa requirements are inextricably linked to politics. Changes in requirements cause changes to travel patterns and market demand very rapidly. ETOA’s research has shown that the EU loses millions of euros through lost business; prospective visitors go elsewhere. Countries who are part of the Schengen visa area are obliged to follow its visa code. ETOA members have reported many anomalies; these have been brought to EC attention.
The UK and Ireland operate independent regimes. Market evidence suggests this harms their prospects. For example, following the introduction of the Schengen visa, the number of multi-country continental itineraries that included the UK dropped. Both UK and Ireland are considering ways of expediting visas if applicants have previously travelled to the area or already have a Schengen visa. Where visa requirements remain they should be tailored both to the threat and the market.
That the EU suffers economic harm due to visa requirements is accepted; the challenge is to enable policy makers to consider change. Security, the prevention of terrorism, and illegal immigration need not entail onerous visa processes; they are compatible with a pro-tourism strategy and the jobs that would flow from it. To assist the political process the economic impact on the electorate must be shown.
Improved visa processes
Greater use of eVisas and visa waiver schemes
Research, publicity, meetings with stakeholders
Collaboration with UK Home Office, EC Tourism Unit and DG Home
Update ETOA’s 2010 origin market survey ‘Europe: open for business?
Participate in surveys
Help illustrate lost revenue
[pending links to: ETOA visa report; Schengen visa code and handbook]
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