How are visa processing delays affecting tourism?

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Tourism executives believe visa processing delays are holding back the industry’s recovery.

— Rashad Jordan

Some countries, including the United States, have not yet fully recovered in tourism from the pandemic, and the long wait for visitor visas is one reason for this. Several tour operators say this long wait has hurt the ability to attract visitors.

How are visa processing delays affecting tourism? We posed the question to Ask Skift, our AI chatbot. It uses information from our past news stories and Skift Research. We also did additional reporting.

What Ask Skift said about the visa delay:

Delays in visa processing can significantly affect tourism in several ways.

First, they can deter potential tourists from choosing a destination. For example, travelers from many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are choosing more affordable Latin American destinations like Cancun over popular US destinations like Las Vegas due to long delays in US visa processing

Second, such delays can result in lost tourism spending. Visa delays are projected to cost $12 billion in lost spending in 2023.

Third, these delays can also reduce the number of new passengers a country can attract. For example, overseas travel to the US was only 78% of its pre-pandemic levels in July 2023, and one of the factors holding the US back from a full return was long visa wait times, which affected potential tourists from countries such as Brazil, India, Mexico and China.

Finally, visa waiting times can lead to increased competition between destinations. The US, for example, faces stiff competition from destinations such as Saudi Arabia, which have improved their tourism infrastructure and introduced more welcoming policies.

These challenges highlight the importance of efficient visa processing systems for countries seeking to attract foreign tourists.

What else you need to know about visa delays:

Visa delays for the largest US inbound markets average over 400 days. As a result, representatives from LA Tourism and NYC Tourism + Conventions had to work more with the local tourism trade to more specifically target travelers with valid visas.

US Travel Association CEO and President Jeff Freeman said the wait time for visas in China is nearly 200 days and that the problem will worsen next year when 10 million Chinese citizens need to renew their visas.

“It’s anything but a welcoming environment,” Freeman said at this year’s Skift Global Forum. “If you’re a tourist or business traveler, you’d probably say I’d go elsewhere.”

The US was the third most searched destination in mid-autumn in China. However, it ranks ninth in total visa applications filed by Chinese travelers, according to Group data shared by NYC Tourism + Conventions CEO and President Fred Dixon at the Skift Global Forum last month.

Freeman told the forum that the U.S. is losing ground in the race to attract travelers, with rival destinations increasingly phasing out visitor visa requirements. Canada, he noted, recently lifted visa requirements for travelers from 11 countries that needed visas to come to the US. Freeman added the UK Additionally, the UK grants visa-free access to visitors to more than 100 countries, while the US only does so to 41 nations.

Delays in visa processing have also affected the number of visitors to conferences and large meetings, which New Orleans & Company Walter Leger III said has slowed the recovery of the events industry.

India travel visa waiting time

For India, the long wait for a visa to travel to Europe has helped drive more Indian travelers to nearby destinations. Krishna Mohan Allapathy, managing director of India-based travel agency Southern Travels, admitted that it takes travelers as much as 45 days to get an appointment for a Schengen visa.

And if Indian travelers are successful in their attempts to obtain a Schengen visa, they will only be able to use it for between three and six months – unlike the US visitor visa, which is valid for 10 years. The long wait time for a visa has also given rise to a practice among Indian travelers called visa shopping. The aim is for them to obtain a visa for a country in the Easier Application Progression Zone and then use their visitor visa to enter their preferred travel destination.

Meanwhile, due to a growing desire to explore destinations closer to home, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Maldives and the United Arab Emirates have emerged as the top five choices for Indian travelers, according to online travel company MakeMyTrip.

Photo: Delays in visa processing are a major problem for the US travel industry

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