The Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) has released “Gateway to Growth: 2014 Visitor Visa Progress Report,” examining Canada’s visitor visa system and how traveller documentation requirements impact not only the travel industry, but trade across all sectors. The third edition of this annual progress report finds that important progress has been made in modernizing the visa system.
While ensuring the safety of Canadians, the government has supported the need to reduce access barriers, acknowledging recently that a modern visa system is “a competitive imperative” in today’s global market. Consequently, the industry has seen some encouraging progress including investment in new Visa Application Centres (VACs), multi-entry visas, the CAN+ fast track program and other online initiatives.
Ease of access has economic benefits beyond travel and tourism. Under the mobility economy, traveller facilitation is important for all sectors. For example, this report shows that since Canada has imposed a visa on Mexicans, we have lost $465 million in travel spending and up to $7.5 billion in bilateral trade with that country alone. While the government has managed to maintain high approval levels with increasing numbers of applications, wait times have increased from five days in 2002 to 21 days in 2013 creating serious access barriers for the travel sector.
“Last year visitors from China, India, Brazil and Mexico – our four biggest visa-required markets – spent over $1 billion in Canada. As visa processing efficiency increases so too will visitation and revenues,” said Robert Taylor, vice-president Public & Industry Affairs. “Our immediate concern is delaying the implementation of the electronic travel authorization – which will impose restrictions on travellers from visa-waiver countries such as France, Germany, UK, Japan and Korea – until the fall of 2015.
TIAC makes a number of recommendations in the report, including:
- Ensure the new Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) process is simple, aligned with industry practices and serves to reduce visa requirements from lower risk countries.
- Consider a Fall 2015 roll out of the eTA program to ensure adequate time to inform travellers and align with industry business cycles.
- Reinvest processing fees for more VACs and processing capabilities.
- Continue and expand fast track programs like CAN+.
Travel and tourism is growing at a global annual rate of 5%, three times faster than in Canada. If Canada were to match the rest of the world we would see an additional $5 billion in spending and $1.7 billion in tax revenue. Emerging markets, most of which require visas, show the greatest growth potential and are key to helping us reach our goal of 5% growth. Ensuring ease of access for these visitors will mean significant economic impacts for Canada, says TIAC.