Hospitality CEOs Urge Pro-Travel Policies at World Economic Forum

Although they're usually fierce competitors, Hilton Worldwide and Marriott International were allies this week at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the U.S. Travel Association reported yesterday.

Created in 1971, the World Economic Forum describes itself as "an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas." Its members — global enterprises that rank among the top companies within their industry and/or country — convene every year in January to debate challenges and solutions within the global economy.

At this year's meeting, Hilton President and CEO Christopher J. Nassetta and Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson delivered a joint address urging global leaders to adopt policies that stimulate travel, and by doing so create jobs and stimulate economic development.

Specifically, Nassetta and Sorenson advocated for "smart visas" — safe, secure and sustainable solutions that promote mobility, maximize the use of technology, and expand programs that facilitate travel while removing process inefficiencies caused by arduous visa requirements.

"In 2012, the UN World Tourism Organization reported that more than one billion people traveled outside their borders — a tremendous catalyst for global commerce and new jobs," Nassetta said. "We are here at the World Economic Forum to tackle complex and challenging economic, social, environmental and political issues. Enabling greater international travel is the low-hanging fruit that can create significant economic growth and employment."

Added Sorenson, "Smart governments are thinking about international travel and tourism as trade, and they are doing everything they can to remove barriers and be more strategic in addressing visas and other access issues that discourage people from traveling and doing business. While we recognize that security remains a top concern, we call on the world leaders here at Davos to be visionary about a future world of interconnected markets where moving travelers more easily will allow more people to see the world and result in 2 billion world travelers in the next decade."

At home, the U.S. Travel Association applauded the CEOs' efforts. "With more than one billion people traveling worldwide, travel is an undisputed driver of the global economy, supporting job growth, sustaining communities and bridging cultural divides," U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement. "Here in the U.S., President Obama has set a goal of attracting 100 million international travelers to the U.S. by 2021. To achieve that, we must continue to improve travel facilitation and expand the Visa Waiver Program, which increases security and removes barriers for international leisure and business travelers from countries that are allied with the United States. I commend Chris Nassetta and Arne Sorenson for bringing this to the world's attention at Davos and thank them for their strong leadership on actions that promote mobility and foster travel."

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