From Bali to Boracay | Single Unified ASEAN Visa Similar To Schengen In The works

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MANILA: A single-visa for the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), similar to Schengen?

It’s the most ambitious project yet for the region, home to 670 million people. It’s much talked about, yet achieved not much headway, so far.

The ASEAN Unified Visa Scheme is a bold idea. Though not new, the joint-visa programme akin to the Schengen visa model (which covers 29 countries in Europe), is the ultimate goal of the Asian neighbours.

The aim is to bolster the bloc’s travel trade  by attracting more long-haul and high-spending travellers to the region. What’s unclear, given the years the idea has been discussed, is how the states would like to get there.

The idea has been on for decades. It gained momentum during the 2016 ASEAN Tourism Forum in the Philippines, where ASEAN member-states officially launched the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan (ATSP) 2016-2025.

Recently, Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin reignited the initiative. The Thai leader’s proposal has garnered broad regional support.

The region’s tourism sector has welcomed the proposal. If approved by member-economies, it would create a seamless Schengen-like mobility experience.

Under the current proposal, it would initially cover the six geographically contiguous mainland Asian countries: Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam (CLMMTV).

Last year, these six countries collectively welcomed 70 million tourists, with Thailand and Malaysia leading, generating approximately $48 billion in tourism dollars.

Thailand’s tourism industry plays a crucial role, employing 20 per cent of its workforce and contributing 12 per cent to its $500 billion economy. With aspirations to welcome 80 million tourists by 2027, Thailand has streamlined entry for visitors from diverse nations and diversified its tourism offerings with events.

While it won’t directly rival Europe’s Schengen visa, the ASEAN visa could create the world’s second-biggest area of free movement, and represent one of the most culturally diverse regions on the planet.

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