Trade and Investment

Is it time for a global passport?

Arne Sorenson
President and Chief Executive Officer, Marriott International Inc.
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What do Twitter and the automobile have in common? How about smart phones and vaccinations?

Give up?

They are all global inventions that cross borders for the benefit of all. When it comes to powerful ideas there are no physical boundaries. Nations gather international coalitions to fight terrorism. We rely on groups like Médecins Sans Frontières to fight deadly diseases like Ebola. Google organizes the world’s information across borders. And, we pool resources to move toward a more peaceful, just world. But as global hotel company CEOs, with more than a million rooms in nearly 100 countries, we can attest that travel needs a more global approach.

Fast flights, slow bureaucracy

With aviation experimenting on engines that will fly at speeds of one mile a second, the breathtaking pace at which we will globalize, in terms of both physical and intellectual migration, will increase exponentially in coming years. There are a billion international border crossings every year already. With the rising middle classes of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America eager to travel, the numbers grow at more than five percent annually. Yet, the one surprising realm that remains woefully behind in globalization is travel.

Here, where we should see leadership in global cooperation, we still rely on individual nation-state bureaucracies. We expect visas and state-issued passports to work as well they did before Lindbergh showed the world that we might someday be in New York one day and Paris the next. That was nearly a century ago!

Towards a global passport

While digital technology and mobile devices have made it easier than ever to plan a trip, book a flight and reserve a hotel room, nations still cling to last century rules and restrictions for visas and passports. To improve safety and security for the millions of people who will want to see the world in the future, we need a global travel strategy. Money crosses borders through agreements between banks that allow travelers to pay with a credit card and withdraw local currency at an ATM. Agreements between telecommunications companies and governments allow travelers to use their mobile device when they leave their country. Shouldn’t we be able to share security and personal data across borders to create a Global Trusted Traveler Card, like a Global Passport?

Based on a personal security evaluation, vetted travelers might pursue education, adventure, social service and commerce. Trade, too, could be better facilitated by a system that recognizes what we in the business community have certainly discovered: that our economies are interconnected and interdependent. International commerce, including the boon of tourism, would further bind nations as trading partners and allies so that we create jobs and prosper together.

If not now, when?

We have already witnessed positive steps toward this goal with the recent announcement of the U.S.-China agreement to extend visa validity to 10 years. The European Union has successfully created cross-border visa-free travel and is reviewing further reforms. And, in the past year, African, Latin American and ASEAN nations have signed up for the call to action by the World Economic Forum to create regional visa-free travel. The pay-off, besides traveler convenience, has been substantial. Countries with a robust travel and tourism strategy have witnessed unprecedented job creation and economic development since the great recession.

The key requirements of a global travel strategy are not only maintaining but improving security. The fact is, cross-communications and collaboration in data analysis can not only enhance the freedom to move but also make governments more effective at identifying those who pose a real risk. By pooling resources, we can increase freedom for the vast majority, reduce waste and better identify and monitor threats.

Our world is ready for this. It might be easy to say “not now,” but shouldn’t we be looking for the moonshot idea that will make travel more secure and more accessible? Let’s create a streamlined and vigilant process that achieves our mutual goals. Of course, the particulars, including financing, will need to be negotiated, but frequent travelers from all over the world will be eager to pay for the convenience. It’s time our approach to international travel catches up to other good ideas that have transformed our lives.

This article is published in collaboration with The Huffington Post. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Christopher J. Nassetta is President and Chief Executive Officer for Hilton Worldwide. Arne Sorenson is President and CEO Marriott International. 

Image: An employee validates an extension visa on a foreign student’s passport at a foreign visas office in Paris November 18, 2011. REUTERS/Charles Platiau.

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