Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has welcomed Jamaica's decision to waive visa requirements for European nationals from Russia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine visiting the Caribbean nation for up to 30 days.
The waiver, announced by Minister of Tourism and Entertainment Dr Wykeham McNeill recently, will see an indefinite extension granted to Latin American nationals of Colombia, Panama and Venezuela.
Lauding the tourism-dependent country late last week, the UNWTO described the move as an important policy step in line with its call for countries worldwide to revise their visa regulations and procedures underscoring the close links between visa facilitation and economic growth through tourism.
"Easing visa policies generates new opportunities for tourism growth and the consequent economic benefits that it brings. Recent UNWTO research shows considerable progress towards visa facilitation over recent years, although hurdles remain in several countries. Jamaica's decision is encouraging and sets an example for the way forward," stated UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai.
Quoted in a media release, the UNWTO secretary general noted that the waiving of the visa requirement for visitors from Latin America in 2011 has proven a successful strategy, with a 50 per cent growth of tourist arrivals from that region in the following year, "according to the Jamaican authorities, who expect a similar impact with the easing of visa requirements for emerging European markets".
His comments were bolstered by McNeill who noted that the country continues to make positive headway towards removing barriers to travel while creating ease of access to visitors from these new and emerging market frontiers.
The minister, in a media release on March 6, noted that having waived visa requirements for nationals from Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela, promotional efforts to grow the Latin American market would continue.
He noted that Copa had doubled its capacity from December 2012, with four flights per week using a larger aircraft. The flights are out of Panama City which is the major hub in Latin America.
At the start of the year, the country welcomed the inaugural Transaero Airlines flight from Moscow, Domodedovo, to Montego Bay's Sangster International Airport with more than 300 passengers and crew from Russia. Of particular note, said McNeill was that visitors from the Russian market stay a minimum of 10 nights, which is twice the average stay of visitors from traditional markets such as the US. It is anticipated that this will provide significant returns through increased visitor spending.
Transaero Airlines is Russia's second largest carrier and flies to 40 countries on 130 routes and has hubs in Moscow, St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. The airline operates flights between Moscow and Belorussia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.