COULD visa-free travel between Asean countries be a reality soon?
While rumors have been swirling for some time, a single Asean visa policy is projected to materialize in 2018, according to Thailand’s Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul.
As reported by Skift, Asean nations are looking to mimic the single-visa model of Europe as well as boost tourism as a region.
“We plan to start this between Thailand and Cambodia. There have been some issues, not concerning security, but because we give free visas to some countries but [they don’t reciprocate with Thailand],” Kobkarn said.
According to Skift, Asean nations recorded 104 million international arrivals in 2015 – primarily from China – and the region is increasingly interested to market Southeast Asia as a single destination with a common visa policy.
If China makes use of from the single-visa move, Asean countries could see a higher influx of Chinese visitors, subsequently benefiting with increased overseas spend.
For instance, Malaysia is looking to pull in more than three million Chinese tourists this year, a figure that could easily rise following the single-visa policy.
A common visa would also facilitate an Open Skies agreement between airlines, especially at a time where low-cost Asian airlines are thriving.
“The growth of travel in Asean is possible, especially because of the growth of low-cost airlines. Meaning air connectivity is no longer from capital to capital, but from secondary city to capital or secondary city to secondary city,” Kobkarn said.
However, the International Civil Aviation Organization Asia-Pacific regional director Arun Mishra said an Open Skies agreement is easier said than done in the context of the Asean region.
“This is because Southeast Asia still hasn’t decided on the seventh freedom, which means the ability of airlines to fly from one foreign hub to another isn’t even allowed now,” he said.
“This is why you see many airlines, such as AirAsia, needing to go form a company with local partners in each country to do this.”
Last year, Thai politician Surin Pitsuwan proposed the idea of multi-country tourist visas for Asean nations to foster a stronger bond through shared tourism promotions and revenues.
His pitch suggested a single Asean visa could be more attractive to international travelers than individual visas would and could also generate more interest for tourism within neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.
At the moment, tour packages are offered for travelers wishing to travel to dual or multiple Southeast Asian countries.
However, Surit stressed a multi-country visa could help to streamline the process of visa requests for travelers from outside of Asean who do not have access to visa-on-arrival arrangements or visa-free exceptions.
Following the proposal, Travel Pulse argued even if the idea sounds practical on the surface, it’s more difficult to execute.
This is because Asean nations are subjected to their own immigration and visa policies as well as different approaches to security and screenings for inbound travelers.
There will undoubtedly be stumbling blocks, but if the common visa policy gets the go-ahead, tourism in the Asean region is all the better for it.