January 16, 2012

ASEAN tourism forum highlights region’s push for further integration


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations yesterday concluded its annual Tourism Forum in Manado, Indonesia, furthering plans to facilitate intra-regional travel for both ASEAN nationals and foreign tourists, officials said.

Promoting the theme “ASEAN Tourism for a Global Community of Nations”, the forum was held between January 8-15 and provided “a great platform for tourism cooperation between the ASEAN countries to facilitate economic development and environmental conservation”, Indonesia’s Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Mari Elka Pangestu said in a statement.

The event has aimed to project ASEAN as a single, highly competitive tourist destination by establishing shared laws that reduced travel barriers for visitors both within and to the region.

Such efforts were continued last week when ministers from all 10 member countries voiced their commitment to accelerate the 2006 ASEAN Framework Agreement for Visa Exemption, which would ease or erase visa requirements for travelling ASEAN nationals.

Cambodian Association of Travel Agents president Ang Kim Eang said that the process has already been long in development, and that Cambodians “now only require visas from a few countries such as Brunei and Myanmar”, adding that he believed these visas could be obtained on arrival.

Figures released at the meeting confirmed that intra-ASEAN travel continued to form a major portion of the tourism industry, comprising 43 per cent of total international arrivals in 2011.

The ministers also were receptive to a new initiative to develop an ASEAN common visa for foreign tourists sometime in the future. Senior officials were told to organise a comprehensive study so that the common visa proposal might be submitted to the 23rd ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh in April.

Ang Kim Eang claimed that Cambodia and Thailand would spearhead the experiment by testing a “bilateral visa agreement”, wherein travelers in possession of a Thai visa would qualify for entry into Cambodian territory.

He did not offer a deadline for when such an initiative would start.

If successful, the common visa could expand throughout the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) and eventually all ASEAN countries, he said.

Discussions also extended outside the ASEAN sphere, particularly concerning the major neighbouring countries of China and Japan.

The ASEAN-China Air Transport Agreement, meant to “significantly enhance air accessibility between ASEAN and China”, was entered into force, according to an official statement. Specifics of the agreement were not immediately available.

Japan was praised for its ongoing efforts to expand an “Open Skies” policy, or the opening of aviation markets between the participating partners, with other ASEAN countries.

Myanmar was appointed chief of GMS during the first days of the forum.

Ang Kim Eang said the decision was made to promote Myanmar’s more positive image in recent weeks, such as the release of hundreds of political prisoners, and to encourage further US involvement in the region.

The ASEAN Tourism Forum’s location changes each year according to alphabetical order. Laos is poised to host the 32nd forum in 2013.

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