Traveling Along: Reflecting on Milestones in 2014

As we approach the end of 2014 it’s only natural to reflect on major milestones. Slowly but surely the doors for the ease of travel are opening wider. A particularly poignant celebration of this vision is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall! Think about it…what could be more symbolic of a barrier preventing ‘Freedom to Travel’ than the bleak 140km concrete structure that stopped families and friends in East and West Berlin from visiting each other between 1961 and 1989? Now there is no divide with Berliners having been able to travel freely for a quarter of a century now.

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Fall of the Berlin Wall

Another milestone was the 100th anniversary of the First World War in which so many countries paid tribute to the thousands of men who lost their lives defending country borders on hostile terms. The display of the ceramic poppies at the Tower of London to mark this anniversary was breathtaking, so I do hope some of you were able to experience it.

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The WWI memorial at the Tower of London. Each poppy has been ‘planted’ by hand in the moat of the Tower of London by volunteers, forming part of the installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red which is made up of 888,246 individual poppies.

And then to bring a milestone closer to the Travel & Tourism industry, this year was also the 100th anniversary celebrating the first ever paying passenger on a commercial flight, Abram C. Pheil, former mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida., having made a decision that would change the world — to take a 23-minute journey with pioneering pilot Tony Jannus on a bi-wing airboat across the bay from St. Petersburg to Tampa, Florida. This historic act marked the birth of the global airline industry. Travel catapulted from that time forward! Nice history lesson, right?

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First commercial flight from St. Petersburg, Florida to Tampa, Florida.

But how is it today to get out and explore new horizons through travel? There have still been too many barriers in parts of the world in the shape of onerous visa requirements and intimidating border checks. These do hinder people from crossing international borders for travel and tourism purposes, be it for business or leisure.

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The good news though is that 2014 has revealed real progress in opening the doors and simplifying so many of the archaic requirements. It started with all the hard work WTTC did with the UNWTO and high level Tourism officials and Ministers from the G20 countries back in 2012 in Mexico. Through joint efforts, the Leaders of these nations recognised the value of Travel & Tourism in their economies and the need to focus on making travel easier, including smoother visa regimes, to support our industry.

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This declaration signified a definite turning point. A case in point is last month President Obama announced that the USA and China had concluded a reciprocal agreement to increase the validity of short-term tourist and business visas from one to ten years for each other’s citizens. Other G20 countries have followed suit in making progress. For example, the UK simplified its tough rules on Chinese visitor visas; India introduced online visa facilities for 45 countries; and the UAE extended visa exemptions to all EU citizens.

The momentum will continue, I am sure, and I will be happy to share these as I continue my globetrotting professional lifestyle. This past year I travelled to more than 20 cities around the world. I am often asked, what are some of my favourite places. I have to say, this year I discovered Samarkand in Uzbekistan. What an impression it made on me and a delightful surprise! This ancient ‘Silk Road’ city is a melting pot of cultures, architecture, and spiritual tolerance. It also has an incredible heritage as a centre for science, mathematics, and astrology. It certainly opened my eyes. If you are looking for a new experience in 2015, then take advantage of your freedom to travel and pay a visit to Samarkand. The people are so proud to share their heritage and feel honoured by every visitor, making them a “friend for life”, as they say. I know I am carrying a few of those friends with me from now on. I am pleased to share this discovery with anyone and everyone who wants a new journey to the past, in order to better appreciate our future and find the evidence in building pathways for peace.

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Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Did you have a travel experience that characterised your 2014?

This post is written by Helen Marano, Vice President, Director of Government & Industry Affairs at WTTC. You can follow Helen on @MaranoHelen.

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