UN hails Turkey’s tourism policies, slams EU for tighter border controls

April 24, 2012, Tuesday/ 20:07:00

A top United Nations tourism official has praised Turkish tourism policies that include abolishing visa requirements with neighbors, resulting in an increase in the number of tourists visiting Turkey.

Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), told reporters on the sidelines on a UN conference on crime that his agency is trying to raise awareness about how “primitive” many countries' visa regulations are and that he would present the result of a study on this at the next summit of G-20 leaders in Mexico in June.

With China set to become the country that sends out the largest number of tourists by 2016, other countries need to rethink whether they want to force Chinese citizens to travel, sometimes repeatedly, to distant consulates for interviews and then wait weeks or months to find out if they will get a visa, he said. He also cited Turkey as an example in that the number of tourists from Russia nearly double after it agreed to grant them visas upon arrival in 2009.

He added that every 48 tourist who arrive in Turkey create a new job there, as do every 43 arrivals in the United States, he added.

Turkey, which straddled Europe and Asia and was once the heart of the Ottoman Empire, attracted 31.46 million tourists in 2011, an increase of almost 10 percent. Tourist receipts amounted to more than $23 billion -- 10.6 percent more revenue from tourists visiting the country last year compared to a year earlier.

Turkish official data suggest that each foreign visitor spent $637 on average in the country in 2011. This is slightly up from 2010's $630.

The country also saw a sharp rise in visitors from Syria and other Arab nations after ending visa requirements for many countries in the region in 2009. But with violence gripping Syria and people adjusting to life after revolution elsewhere, the numbers coming from the Middle East have dropped.

Rifai noted that France and Germany would shoot themselves, and Europe, in the foot by pressing for stepped-up border controls in the travel-free Schengen region. He added that countries should instead insist on more liberal travel rules or risk missing out on the revenue and jobs that tourists shower on their favorite travel destinations.

France and Germany have proposed that Schengen countries receive more leeway in extreme cases to suspend the pact, which permits visa-free travel across 26 EU and non-EU countries, to ensure tighter security within the European Union. “Let alone what France and Germany are asking -- because it is going to hurt them more -- the whole Schengen area has to look at itself. ... It is going to be very, very damaging,” he added.

EU states already have the power to allow the reintroduction of border controls for 30 days if there is a specific threat to security or public order. “The Schengen zone is depriving itself of the tremendous potential for more tourists [and] more benefits by actually insisting on procedures and formalities that belong to the 19th century,” Rifai asserted.    

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