MANADO, Indonesia (eTN) – There is a funny expression in French media. They regularly mention “marronnier” (chestnut tree), as soon as a topic comes into the media on a regular basis. For example: “Winter Sales” or “Crowded highways for holidays.”
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has its own “marronnier” – visa issues. Every ASEAN Travel Forum (ATF) experiences ministries from each member country reaffirming his commitment to simplify visa issues and work on a single ASEAN visa.
At almost every press conference, questions generally emerge on visa procedures to some member countries. ATF’s last edition in Manado in mid-January was no exception. Visa again became the issue, with ministers reinstating to work on creating a single visa. But more countries are now raising their voice in favor of a rapid single visa implementation.
During ATF, various ministerial meetings – Cambodia, Indonesia, or the Philippines – voiced their strong support to the single visa as they see it as a means to rapidly boost the appeal of the region for travelers. Indonesia’s Minister for Tourism and Creative Economy, Mari Elka Pangestu, formally introduced ASEAN as the single tourist destination during the tourism forum in Manado. However, she admitted that the campaign would only gain in importance once “problems involving common visas to non-ASEAN residents are settled.”
For now, non-ASEAN travelers have to play with different rules for almost each country. It goes from relatively liberal policies in Malaysia, the Philippines, or Thailand, to simple visa-on-arrivals rules for Cambodia, Laos, or Indonesia. The toughest visa conditions are to be expected in Myanmar and Vietnam, but there are also some changes in the air. Myanmar just announced at the end of last month to implement e-visa facilities and relax entry into the country.
In an interview conducted by the Myanmar Times newspaper, Union Minister U Tint San declared on February 1 that the government will try to introduce an e-visa system from March that would allow international visitors to apply from anywhere via the Internet before visiting Myanmar. In parallel, the e-visa would allow travelers to enter or exit from any border crossing point. The web address for the proposed e-visa site is www.myanmarevisa.gov.mm . At ATF, Phyoe Wai Yarzar, Secretary of the newly-formed Myanmar Tourist Board, explained that e-visa facilities would, in fact, be the most efficient way for the government to balance the absence of diplomatic representations.
They are also rumors that Vietnam would work on a e-visa solution. There is already the possibility of getting a pre- E-visa clearance in certain cases. But the procedure remains expensive and on a case-by-case basis. Officials from the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism admitted during the ATF that lengthy visa formalities are certainly a major handicap to the development of tourism. Nothing official has been announced so far, but it seems that the government seems to realize that it has to change the way visa is provided if Vietnam does not want to lose out tourists to other destinations.
Last but not least, the long-expected common visa between Cambodia and Thailand – announced many times and delayed many times as well, due to political tensions between both countries – became available since February 1. The single visa gives access to both countries and should be soon extended to Laos