Thailand, Burma to Ink Visa Exemption Deal Next Week

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 23 July 2015

RANGOON — The Burmese and Thai foreign ministries will sign a long-awaited visa exemption agreement in Chiang Mai next week, to take effect from August 27 in the airports of both countries.

Originally agreed to in a memorandum of understanding in late 2013, the deal stalled following the military coup that toppled the former Thai government led by Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014.

A push by Burmese officials to include land border crossings in the deal was reportedly left out of the final agreement, with their Thai counterparts arguing that any overland agreements should wait until the new protocols were tested by air arrivals.

“There are many visitors are going each way through the four border check points,” said Sein Oo, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “That’s why we expected Thailand to waive visa for these land crossing points as well—but the Thai government said commercial airports should be the first step.”

Under the agreement, ordinary passport holders from both countries will be permitted 14 days of visa-free travel on passing through 23 Thai airports and Burma’s three international airports in Naypyidaw, Rangoon and Mandalay. There are currently seven airlines running services between the two countries.

The agreement is expected to eventually encompass land crossings from Myawaddy, Tachileik, Htee Khee and Kawthaung, the four most frequently patronized checkpoints along the border of the two countries.

The news has been welcomed by Burma’s hotel and tourism sectors. Thai nationals have for years comprised the highest proportion of foreign travelers, including during last year’s record 3 million tourist arrivals.

Dr Aung Myat Kyaw, chairman of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association, expects that the deal will see Thai visitor numbers return to the top of the list.

“This is an initial step for freedom of movement between Myanmar and Thai visitors,” he said. “We don’t need to spend hours in the embassy now, so the numbers of travelers between both countries will definitely increase.”
As Burmese authorities prepare for a forecast 5 million tourist arrivals in 2015, the government is planning to open up more coastal areas and frontier destinations for travel, in addition to providing more infrastructure for historically popular destinations.

According to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, nearly 70,000 Thai tourists arrived in Burma between January and May this year, followed by nearly 45,000 from China. Following last year’s Asean conference in Naypyidaw, Burma has pledged to finalize agreements with regional countries, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Brunei and the Philippines, to move towards visa exemptions for ordinary passport holders by the end of 2015.