Seamless ASEAN travel by 2020?

January 27, 2015 by  
Filed under ASEAN AFFAIRS, News

NAY PYI TAW, 27 January 2015: ASEAN’s  promised seamless travel is not just around the corner, Philippines’ secretary tourism, Ramon Jimenez, told the opening press conference at the ASEAN Tourism Forum, Monday.

He was responding to a question from TTR Weekly on news reports from Davos, Switzerland, over the weekend, that suggested ASEAN’s era of seamless travel would not start until 2020.

“Five years is not al long time,” he told a packed press conference at the capital’s convention centre. “Does tourism need to move so fast?”

ASEAN ministers will signal the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community in December this year, but the message presented in Davos by Malaysia’s trade minister suggested seamless travel within the region would take another five years to become a commercial reality.

inside no 1The region’s travel industry is eagerly awaiting the introduction of the AEC that is already two years behind its initial launch date and investors are counting on a speedy implementation to justify new tourism projects.

But ASEAN ministers, here in Nay Pyi Taw, made it abundantly clear seamless travel in practice was still a considerable distance off.

Philippines’ secretary of tourism was the most articulate on the reasons why. He argued that slow progress  would allow tourism  to adopt green polices, alleviate poverty and embrace polices to safeguard the environment.

“We have islands to project and we have to ensure tourism creates more jobs. To say five years is optimistic… we will do it at the right time.”

Referring to Myanmar’s historic hosting of its first ASEAN Tourism Forum since the event was established in Genting, Malaysia, 34 years ago, Jimenez said: “Five years ago this meeting (in Myanmar) would have not been possible.”

But his comments will still disappoint the travel trade that is pushing for a fast adoption of seamless travel, particularly visa-free travel and open skies to improve connectivity.

From his own country, travel buyers and sellers had to spend 12 hours to transfer from Manila to Nay Pyi Taw. There are no nonstop flights between the Philippines and Myanmar.

The official word on introducing seamless travel to region was “mutual respect” that allows each member country to come up to speed on requirements including visa-free travel at their own pace.

“We face restraints with visa regulations,” said Myanmar’s Minister of Hotels and Tourism, Htay Aung. “The aim is full integration by 2020, but there are levels of development – customs, security, economics and banking.

The AEC blueprint was adopted in 2007, but it has taken seven years to progress to the point where it can be officially launched this December.”

“We are now looking beyond the basic AEC blueprint to  consider broader and deeper integration and close the economic development gap within ASEAN,” he said.

inside no 1.1Myanmar in September 2014 introduced an e-Visa that is now available to more than 100 nationalities and is applicable for entry at three airport gateways; Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw. Overland checkpoints will be added later.

“It takes time, step-by-step first in the smaller areas of ASEAN such as the Mekong Sub-Region,” commented Myanmar’s tourism minister.

Myanmar has still to approve visa-free travel with Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. It will require bilateral agreements. There were reports that Thailand and Myanmar would ink an agreement to allow visa-free travel between the two countries in November 2013.

There will also be seamless travel hitches in aviation if reports that Indonesia declined to sign off on the AEC’s open skies policy prove to be accurate.

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