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AFTA UPDATE

Last week during the ITB travel show in Berlin I was able to take part in a very important debate about the way in which countries and in particular Europe, may look to fund their tourism promotional activities.
Many would be aware that the USA has taken on the idea of using ESTA visa waiver fees to fund the Brand USA operation and it appears that the EU might have considered a similar concept.
Clearly there is some merit in the policy settings that have brought about the US model, but as the point was made at the ITB conference, governments should fund national tourism promotion from consolidated revenue – as Australia does both federally and at a state level – rather than charge the very tourist that has gone to the country in question and supported the country’s economy.
The suggestion of adding more taxes and charges to tourists across the globe is not one that is welcomed by the travel and tourism industry globally. Nor indeed by the travelling public as it simply makes what is already a costly exercise even more expensive and, one could argue, with little return on the investment for the tourist.
Further to this point, the UNWTO is on a mission to introduce the notion of the “Freedom of Travel”. In a nutshell they are arguing that the requirement of countries to impose visas for entry to a country should be reviewed and as much as possible removed to make travel easier, simpler and more cost effective.
As all Aussies know when you go to an EU member country in Europe, all you need is your passport, you don’t need to apply for a visa or do anything other than turn up. Oh, apart from filling in the green departure card in Australia which we continue to talk to the federal government about – bringing that green departure card into the 21st century either by way of an online process or other form of collecting the data that is deemed necessary.
This process falls further into the push by the UNWTO for the “Freedom of Travel”. I don’t think anyone has a problem with governments all around the world protecting their borders and implementing processes to do this, but the simple message at ITB this year was, make it simple and remove costs at every level.
A very interesting exchange as to how different countries are approaching these many vexed and complex issues. Time will tell, but I think the notion of the EU introducing a fee system like the USA is unlikely.