As proposed a few years ago, ASEAN member states are working towards the establishment of visa-free travel in the region for ASEAN nationals. A proposal for an ASEAN Common Visa for non-ASEAN nationals to facilitate business mobility and tourism is also working its way through the official channels. ASEAN immigration authorities have been tasked with conducting a study on this initiative. It will take time to implement, however, due to the different levels of development and concerns among ASEAN member countries. For instance, differences in legal processes, security issues and implementation processes.
Speaking exclusively to Express TravelWorld, Soraya Homchuen, director, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Mumbai Office said, “Smaller schemes such as the Cambodia-Thailand single visa have already been implemented and they have proven successful. Other ASEAN members may consider the possibility on this kind of project as well, such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.”
However, there are hurdles that can delay the implementation of the Common Visa regime such as infrastructure, airport capacity and connectivity. Homchuen informed, “The projected growth of tourist numbers in the ASEAN region includes huge number of domestic tourists within ASEAN and also the flow of tourists from neighbouring countries such as China and India. As such there are numerous issues involved from management, security, education, training programmes and law enforcement to ecological and environmental management, etc.”
India’s Look East Policy supports ASEAN connectivity in terms of logistics and travel connection by road. This policy will facilitate flow of tourist from Northeast India to ASEAN Member countries more conveniently. Homchuen added, “TAT India’s both Delhi and Mumbai offices are undertaking PR activities to create awareness among Indian tourists about tourist attractions in ASEAN member countries such as, brochures introducing route connections between ASEAN neighbouring countries and organising media educational trips to ASEAN countries with Thailand as the gateway.”
There are also some activities of the ASEAN APCT–India (ASEAN Tourism Promotion Chapter) which the representatives of tourism promotion boards of ASEAN countries who have offices in India will jointly organise with the budget from the ASEAN Secretariat.
Apart from this, the differences in terms of rules and regulations in each member country as well as level of development in terms of facilities and human resources can be factors that delay the implementation of ASEAN connectivity. Homchuen reasoned, “Since Thailand is located at the heart of vibrant and dynamic ASEAN region, we see the future potential of ASEAN connectivity. The increasing connectivity and development of key infrastructure projects, such as the ASEAN Highway Network and the growth of low-cost carriers, have enhanced linkages with various destinations in the region.”
In its marketing plan, TAT has placed ASEAN connectivity as an issue –based project for overseas offices to create awareness of ASEAN as a single tourist destination as well as to promote the tourist routes within ASEAN countries. The activities to promote ASEAN connectivity are; media and agent familiarisation trip to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV Mega FamTrip), ASEAN Connectivity Caravan by car, big-bike and bicycle. TAT also has the ASEAN Photo Walk to encourage tourists in the region to share their information, photos, video clips on their social network and online media.
Homchuen added, “We also publish guidebooks for the ASEAN community such as ‘Self Drive in Thailand and Beyond’, ‘ASEAN Gateway Information’ and provide information on ASEAN tourism routes and tour operators in Thailand and neighbouring countries who operate cross-border tourism in the ASEAN region on our website.