Travel Association Calls for ‘ASEAN Plus Three’ Visa Exemption Deal

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 23 June 2015

RANGOON — The Federation of ASEAN Travel Associations (FATA) has called on ASEAN countries to waive entry visa requirements for travelers among the 10 nations, as well as from China, Japan and South Korea, in order to boost the regional tourism industry, FATA’s president told The Irrawaddy this week.

“More Chinese, Korean and Japanese tourists are coming to this region year by year. Many travel agents in the region want to expand their market and that’s why visa requirements should be waived,” Dr Aung Myat Kyaw said.

“If there is a visa [exemption agreement] among these ‘ASEAN Plus Three’ countries, tourists can travel through at any time. This is important for all [regional nations], that’s why we spoke out on this issue.”

Visa exemptions headlined discussions at a FATA meeting held in Kuala Lumpur on June 13. Attendees noted a slowdown in tourist traffic from Western nations and the importance of harnessing growth in regional travel, according to a FATA statement released after the dialogue.

“ASEAN nationals should be allowed to enter any member country without visas for a minimum stay of 14 days,” FATA president Dr Aung Myat Kyaw said in the statement.

“This is crucial in making the ASEAN Economic Community a reality towards the deadline on 31 December 2015… It is [also] imperative that all ASEAN countries drop visa requirements for visitors from these three East Asian countries before more of their nationals travel to other parts of the world and bypass ASEAN destinations altogether.”

ASEAN Plus Three was initiated in 1997 to strengthen cooperation between the 10-nation bloc and the three regional powers, including in the tourism sector.

FATA Secretary General Hamzah Rahmat, who is also president of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents, said in the statement that tourism is already “big business” in many ASEAN countries and is also instrumental in promoting other businesses and investment.

“A government that insists on imposing visas does not want to see the potential tourism can bring for the economy,” he said.

Dr Aung Myat Kyaw also cited the potential economic boon of enabling the freer movement of tourists between countries but added that the private sector understood some governments’ hesitancy in moving forward.

“We can assist them to consider the reality that lies in this market,” he said.

Sabei Aung, managing director of Nature Dream Travel in Burma, called for greater collaboration among governments in the region in the interests of promoting the industry.

“As the number of Burmese travelers is getting higher year by year, there are a few countries that have [waived] visa requirements. This is expected to bring benefits for our national travelers,” she said.

Passport holders from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam are currently afforded visa-free entry into Burma for a period of 14 days.

According to the Union of Myanmar Travel Association, more than 3 million tourists visited Burma last year and the government has ambitiously forecast 5 million arrivals for 2015.