Report: ASEAN Should Facilitate Visa Procedures

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A joint report from the UN World Tourism Organization and World Travel & Tourism Council suggests that facilitating ASEAN visa procedures could attract between 6 and 10 million additional international tourist arrivals by 2016.

The report, The Impact of Visa Facilitation in ASEAN Member States, was presented last month at the 33rd annual ASEAN Tourism Forum in Sarawak, Malaysia.

Already one of the most open regions in the world in terms of tourist visa requirements, the ASEAN bloc’s recent attempt to facilitate visa procedures and coordinate a progressive approach to the implementation of new visa policies has already proven wildly successful.

Despite joint efforts to improve legal integration and grow national and regional travel and tourism sectors, however, the report suggests there are a number of areas where further improvement is necessary.

RELATED: Understanding visas across Asia

According to the report, of the roughly 89 million tourists that traveled to ASEAN destinations last year, 9.7 percent needed to obtain a traditional visa (a non-electronic visa stamped into a passport). Under the current policies, the number of international tourist arrivals that would be required to obtain a traditional visa prior to travel to an ASEAN destination is forecast to rise to over 10.4 percent, on average, between 2014 and 2016.

The report suggests that in order to keep pace with this rising demand for visas and fully reap the benefits international tourism can bring to the ASEAN economy, the regional bloc should put in place conditions that make ASEAN easy to visit as well as attractive to develop, and to facilitate investment in its Travel & Tourism (T&T) sector.

Steps that must be taken include:

  • improving the availability and reliability of information on entry formalities;
  • facilitating the process for obtaining visas;
  • differentiating treatment to facilitate tourist travel;
  • instituting an eVisa program; and
  • establishing stronger regional agreements for freer intra-ASEAN travel.

Thailand and Cambodia, two ASEAN countries currently possessing a successful bilateral agreement allowing visitors from each country into the other without a visa, were highlighted in the report.  This success was contrasted with a similar agreement between Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar which continues to struggle towards implementation after being initially signed in 2007.

Variations in the strictness of visa policies between ASEAN nations (Myanmar, for example, possesses the strictest entry policies of any ASEAN nation) is largely responsible for slower-than-expected progress towards forging ASEAN-wide visa agreements such as the ASEAN Common Visa Initiative.

According to the report, the suggested improvements would generate between US$7 and US$12 billion in new revenue and create between 333,000 and 654,000 new jobs throughout ASEAN and 187,000-367,000 jobs in ASEAN’s tourism sector.

Addressing the ASEAN Tourism Forum, UN World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Taleb Rifai said, “I would like to commend ASEAN leaders for their vision in making travel facilitation a priority in advancing regional integration and economic development in ASEAN and call upon them to continue supporting this important agenda. Indeed, although ASEAN is one of the most open regions in terms of tourist visas, this report clearly opens the opportunity to further promote easier visa policies as a means to generate economic growth, job creation and regional integration through tourism in the ASEAN economies.”

RELATED: Forum sees good times ahead for tourism in Asia

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