Public-Private Cooperation, Visa Waivers are Key for Tourism Growth
Private businesses and governments must work together in order to maximize the potential of the travel and tourism industry. That’s the word from a variety of delegates speaking at the Americas Summit during the first part of a two-hour presentation called “Working Together for Jobs and Growth.”
“Growth in the tourism economy is attributable in no small part to the private sectors,” said Zhu Shanzhong, vice chairman of the China National Tourism Administration. “The government and the private sector must make joint efforts.”
“What is economic is strategic and what is strategic is economic,” said Thomas Nides, deputy secretary of state for the United States of America, who also emphasized the importance of cooperation within the western hemisphere. “We’re all asking what we can do to harness the power of proximity,” he told delegates. “It’s clear that Travel &Tourism will be a critical part of the equation.”
Session moderator Kathleen Matthews, executive vice president of Marriott International, posed a number of questions to Nides regarding the nation’s visa process for foreign visitors. “We’re doing an enormous amount to make it simpler to visit the United States,” according to Nides, who noted a goal for the United States to attract 100 million annual international visitors by 2021. “We just changed the rules in China. If you have a valid visa, and you want to travel in the second year, you normally have to get in your car and get the visa. Now, you can renew your visa online.” Nides noted that new U.S. consulates and increased consular staff in China, Brazil and India have also helped to speed the visa process.
The visa situation also arose as an issue during a subsequent panel discussion with tourism officials. “We’d like to go for ‘no visa’ sometime in the future,” said Mari Elka Pangestu, Indonesia’s minister of tourism and creative economy, noting that the Asian region already allows travel without visa for its citizens. “Sharing databases would be a good way to progress.”
Government and the Private Sector
In the quest to grow Travel & Tourism, “one stumbling block is regulation,” according to Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa’s minister of tourism, adding that public-private cooperation “shouldn’t be only a partnership on paper.”
HRH Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Asud, chairman of the board and president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, agreed. “Smart governments make it easy for the private sector,” he said.
Private-sector insiders weighed in during the following panel. “There are some governments leading the way and making long-term commitments to tourism,” said Tom Klein, president of Sabre Holdings.
“Let’s start with government positions related to the growth of our industry,” Klein said. “Are they erecting obstacles or tearing down barriers?” Progress has come from “having a single voice that calls for more from our government,” according to Klein, who noted that working together “has delivered some promising results” — including the first-ever national tourism strategy for the United States, embodied in the new Brand USA campaign.
Thorsten Kirschke, COO of Carlson Hotels and president of Carlson Hotels in Latin America, noted that governments play an important role in creating the infrastructure that allows Travel & Tourism to thrive. “You can have the most beautiful heritage site, but if that infrastructure is not developed, that makes it difficult to build hotels and grow in ‘nowhere-land,’” he said.
Kirk Kinsell, president for the Americas at IHG, noted that the private sector, in turn, helps to support local communities in a variety of ways. “A great deal of [hotel] ownership is by local families, local institutions,” he said. “When we open up the doors and attract people to Mexico — to Cancun or Los Cabos — eventually they’ll find their way into these little local communities, and that’s where we need to make sure they’re partnered up for a great guest experience.”
“I think the takeaway is that it’s important for us to participate in the dialogue,” said Jim Compton, executive vice president and chief revenue officer at United Airlines. “Nothing changes overnight. But when you lose consistency, you take two steps back.”