By APEC Secretariat
PALM SPRINGS, USA – Travel requires a lot of planning, especially when it comes to frequent international travel. Not all destinations have the same entry and visa requirements and it is not unusual for travellers to find themselves stuck in long immigration lines on arrival and departure.
For frequent business travellers, the APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) is worth considering. Its main purpose is to streamline the entry process into APEC member economies, making travel for business easier and immigration processing faster.
The ABTC scheme saves costs for businesses and governments – increasing efficiency by reducing cost and time spent applying for visas and through fast-track immigration processing at airports – fueling its growing popularity. As the ABTC allows for multiple entries to multiple APEC member economies, users’ travel costs within the APEC region have fallen by 38 percent. Businesses pay 27 percent less in application fees and 52 percent less in immigration processing. For many small businesses, these costs cannot be ignored. Today, there are more than 340,000 active ABTCs across the APEC region.
The Business Mobility Group (BMG), the group responsible for the ABTC, was formed in 1997 when the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) made the facilitation of business travel a priority. Since the BMG’s establishment, the group has regularly consulted with the business community.
The development of the ABTC stands as one of the BMG’s biggest achievements in its collaboration with ABAC and provides business people faster and easier entry to participating economies in the Asia Pacific, Central and South America, the United States and Canada.
Sally McLean, BMG convenor, outlined that the primary function of the group has “been to manage the ABTC scheme and discuss how it could evolve. Over the years, we’ve seen the evolution [of the ABTC scheme] that has been supported by the group. All 21 economies have a part in how the ABTC scheme operates.”
The BMG convenor also highlighted some of the group’s priorities for 2023 including mobility and digitalization as well as the steps member economies are taking to improve the ABTC scheme and expand its value for the region’s businesses, including small and medium enterprises.
The BMG launched the virtual ABTC in November 2020 and by 1 March 2021, all member economies agreed to allow entry to virtual ABTC cardholders.
“The primary responsibility or role of the ABTC is to provide for seamless travel for business people by and large across the APEC economies.”
Digital advancements in processes streamline and strengthen management of the ABTC scheme, as well as enhance security and reduce costs for both users and their economies.
“The virtual ABTC is an innovation to be able to digitalize the ABTC, essentially. Taking it out of your wallet or your purse and putting it onto your smartphones. So really it is an excellent innovation that has a whole lot of security parameters that are superior to having a [physical] ABTC.
“At this stage … ten economies have signed up to [the virtual ABTC], which is really great. Among some of those economies, Australia and New Zealand, for example, we now only issue a virtual ABTC, so we no longer print the physical card.
A number of other economies will provide both [the physical and virtual ABTC] to be able to support the transition of their business travellers to the virtual card. But all economies in 2021, agreed to accept the virtual card.”
Member economies that have transitioned to the virtual platform so far include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Indonesia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, and Thailand.
The BMG is also focused on ensuring opportunities to travel for business travel with the ABTC are inclusive.
“Importantly, those business travellers, the eligibility associated with business travellers is quite broad. Some economies will approve an ABTC for startup businesses. You don’t have to be small, medium or large enterprise to actually have access to seamless travel into the APEC economies, which is fantastic.”
The safe and seamless facilitation of business travel across borders is also a key priority of the BMG.
“The BMG places great focus on having conversations about how economies are moving to be able to open up their borders, to enable that business travel to be undertaken, and move into digitalization and contactless travel.
There are a whole lot of reasons why you would move into digitalization, security being one of those elements…[and] the efficiency of the process. Having those technologies in place does certainly make it faster to be able to get through immigration checkpoints…[Digitalization] has [also] become particularly relevant in a health context…”