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Poor visa processing poses the greatest challenge to growth in international travel, say industry leaders.

Abercrombie and Kent chief executive Geoffrey Kent told the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Asia Summit: “It’s ridiculous that an entire trip can be stymied by a hold-up for a visa. This visa thing has to be sorted.”

Carlson Wagonlit Travel president and chief executive Doug Anderson agreed, saying: “Business travellers often decide to travel at the last minute and visa processes hinder that.”

Indonesia tourism minister Mari Pangestu told the summit in Seoul: “Visas are not about security. They are about reciprocity.

“Countries only grant free visas if the other side gives a free visa. If it does not, this kills travel. We need political commitment [to change] at the top.”

However, World Economic Forum head of aviation, travel and tourism Thea Chiesa said: “It comes back to funds.

“Visas are a source of income for governments. They are not going to let go of that.”

UN World Tourism Council (UNWTO) executive director Marcio de Paula reported a fall in the past five years in the number of countries requiring visas before departure.

De Paula said: “In 2008, 77% required a visa before departure. In 2013 it was 64%. Countries had moved from visa before departure to visa on arrival.”

Ambassador Dho Young-Shim, who chairs the UNWTO sustainable tourism foundation, told the summit: “We’re not only talking about the time-consuming process of obtaining a visa but also the cost.”

She insisted systems could improve, recalling: “In Korea we used to have visa applicants to the US queueing four times around the American Embassy.

“People worked hard to change the process and President Obama listened.”

Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata) chief executive Martin Craigs argued for “intelligent use of technology” and pointed out: “Cambodia started issuing electronic visas almost 10 years ago.”