The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is planning to adopt a single visa system enabling people to visit any of the group’s 10 member states on a single visa.
Following the lead of Europe’s Schengen single visa system, Jakarta-based ASEAN believes that a single visitor visa policy would enhance the tourism experience in the region, boosting arrivals to member states.
‘The plan is realistic, action oriented, attuned to the global realities and designed to ensure that the ASEAN region can continue to be a successful tourism destination,’ said Thong Khon, Cambodia’s minister of tourism.
It fits with the group’s Tourism Strategic Plan 2011/2015 which aims to promote the region as a single tourist destination, develop a set of ASEAN tourism standards with a single certification process, enable tourism employees to work in any ASEAN country, and create a single tourist visa policy.
Importantly the strategy has strong support from the so-called ‘Plus 3’ countries of China, Japan and South Korea. ASEAN is also moving towards the implementation of an open skies aviation policy, which is scheduled to come into force in 2015.
A unified ASEAN aviation market means that airlines would be able to fly freely over the region, transporting passengers between member states without limits imposed by individual governments in terms of routes, frequencies, airlines or aircraft types.
‘In tandem, the single tourist visa and open skies aviation policy would have the potential to greatly improve the region’s appeal as a tourist destination, offering the opportunity to significantly increase tourist arrival numbers from the 65 million achieved in 2010,’ explained Khon.
The plans have some obstacles to overcome, however, not least the inclusion of Myanmar, and local cross border disputes, including the situation between Cambodia and Thailand.
If it works it means that travellers could surf in Bali, shop in Singapore and eat spicy street food in Thailand before crossing into Cambodia and cruising the Mekong in Vietnam on a single tourist visa.
‘You would just have to apply for one visa and you could then visit all the countries using that visa,’ said Eddy Krisneidi, an ASEAN official. He said that the most popular destination in the region is Malaysia, followed by Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Brunei.
Analysts say visitor numbers could be boosted by slashing the time consuming and confusing visa requirements for each of ASEAN’s 10 countries. Currently some allow foreigners to simply purchase visas on arrival, others require wads of paperwork, photos and up to a week to issue the required stamp.
‘One of the major concerns of the industry, as well as visitors, is the difficulty of obtaining visas, a series of widely differing regulations and information needs for visas,’ ASEAN’s strategic plan states.
‘It would definitely benefit all the countries in this region, especially Thailand,’ said Suraphon Svetasreni of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.