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UNITED NATIONS (March 21)–Jamaica is getting big props from the international community for waiving visas so it can grow its bread-and-butter industry, tourism.

The United Nations tourism agency welcomed the decision by the government of Jamaica to relax visa regulations for tourists originating in a number of Eastern European countries, while also extending its current visa waiver system for some Latin American nationals. The visa waiver for tourists from Russia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine visiting Jamaica for up to 30 days was announced earlier this month. Also announced was the indefinite extension of the visa waiver in place for nationals of Colombia, Panama and Venezuela.

“Easing visa policies generates new opportunities for tourism growth and the consequent economic benefits that it brings,” said Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

“Jamaica’s decision is encouraging and sets an example for the way forward,” he added.

Although Rifai noted that “hurdles” regarding visa facilitation continue to remain in place in several countries, recent UNWTO research showed “considerable progress” over the past years.

In January, the UNWTO released a report underscoring the need for less stringent visa requirements, as well as the facility of an electronic visa system. Rifai warned that “an overall restrictive visa policy means lost opportunities for economic growth and jobs, which tourism could bring to destinations.”

“Travelers regard visas as a formality that entails a cost. This can be a deterrent to travel if costs–whether monetary or indirect, including distance, wait times and service–exceed a certain threshold,” he noted.

The tourism agency head urged governments to do more in sustaining tourism. In particular, Rifai contended financial assistance for the tourism sector would also help in promoting economic recovery for regions hard hit by the recession.

Jamaica’s waiving of visa requirements for visitors from Latin America in 2011 has proven to be a successful strategy, with Jamaican authorities witnessing marked growth of tourist arrivals from the region the following year. Following the easing of visa restrictions for emerging Eastern European markets, the U.N. agency reported that the Jamaica government expects a similar impact to occur with tourists from those countries.

“There are significant benefits to be reaped from improving the visa regimes and making travel more hassle free as we invite persons to come to Jamaica and experience our hospitality,” said Dr. Wykeham McNeill, Jamaica’s minister of tourism.