14 Jun 2012
BANGKOK (Xinhua) - The member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are now joining hands in promoting the bloc as a single tourist destination to further develop the tourism industry in the region, according to the Indonesian tourism minister.
"Through the cooperation between ASEAN tourism ministers, we have already developed ASEAN joint-market promotion and marketing strategies; we are going out to develop ASEAN's image as a single tourist destination," Mari Elka Pangestu, Indonesia's Minister for Tourism and Creative Economy, said in a recent interview with Xinhua on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia.
Under the single tourist scheme, ASEAN countries can issue a common visa for visitors travelling in any member-country of the regional grouping. Currently, only citizens of the ASEAN member- countries can travel throughout the region without visas.
According to the minister, the initiative is part of the region 's effort of forming a single market by 2015 under the blueprint of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
By drawing comparison between ASEAN and a cruise ship, Pangestu said every country inside the body can have different "ports of call" as they offer foreign visitors a variety of travel experiences.
"You can have many combinations. For example, you can go to Singapore, Bali (Indonesia), Phuket (Thailand) on only one trip and you also have many other choices," she said.
If ASEAN is to offer single-destination comforts for visitors, simplification of visa procedures could be expected.
Pangestu said the region's authorities are still working on a proposal for the issuance of an "ASEAN common visa" for non-ASEAN visitors which was made last year.
"Recommendations will be filed again at next year's ASEAN summit," she said. She added, however, that the process could be very time-consuming.
"Taking the Schengen system as an example, it took decades for the Europeans to finalize it," Pangestu said. "Probably, we can start with two or three countries for special types of visitors like businessmen, and then extend the common visa policy in the long-term to other groups of visitors."
Attending a TV debate session entitled "Driving Growth through Travel and Tourism" at the WEF, Pangestu called on her ASEAN counterparts to further tap into the region's tourist potentials as she emphasized the significance of intra-ASEAN tourism which, she said, is a good way for the people in the region to develop a better understanding on the region itself and recognize themselves as citizens of ASEAN as a whole.
"Last year, ASEAN attracted around 82 million tourists, of which 50 percent traveled within the region," she said.
Echoing her views, Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said although most people acknowledge that travel contributes to job creation and economic growth, cumbersome and outdated visa procedures are still a major impediment to the growth of sector.
Speaking at another session at the forum, the UNCTAD chief urged the ASEAN members to take proactive measures aimed at reducing obstacles to travel mobility and make tourism a mainstream development strategy.