Mobility and digitization: Key priorities for the BMG, expanding ABTC’s value for the region’s businesses


ABTC makes travel for business easier and immigration processing faster | Photo via APEC

PALM SPRINGS, CA – Travel requires a lot of planning, especially for frequent international travel. Not all destinations have duplicate entry and visa requirements, and it is not unusual for travelers to find themselves stuck in long immigration lines on arrival and departure.

The APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) is worth considering for frequent business travelers. Its primary 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 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.

Also watch: The Future of Business Mobility is Digital: Sally McLean, Convenor of the APEC Business Mobility Group.

The Business Mobility Group (BMG), the group responsible for the ABTC, was formed in 1997 when the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) prioritized facilitating business travel. 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 most significant achievements in its collaboration with ABAC. It 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 group’s primary function 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 the group the group has supported. 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 the 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 digitalize the ABTC, essentially. Take it from your wallet or purse and put it onto your smartphone. So really, it is an incredible innovation with many security parameters that are superior to having a physical] ABTC.

“At this stage…10 economies have signed up to [the virtual ABTC], which is excellent. 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.

Several other economies will provide both [the physical and virtual ABTC] to be the ability to support the transition of their business travelers to the virtual card. But all economies in 2021 agreed to accept the virtual card.” Member economies that have transitioned to the virtual platform 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 travelers, the eligibility associated with business travelers 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 open up their borders, to enable that business travel to be undertaken, and move into digitalization and contactless travel.

There are many 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 indeed make it faster to be able to get through immigration checkpoints…[digitalization] has [also] become particularly relevant in a health context….”

–With Jay Domingo/PDM

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