Travelers may soon be able to enjoy the delights of South East Asia; shopping in Singapore, surfing in Bali, partying in Bangkok and cruising up the Mekong, all with just one visa, if ASEAN get their way.
A plan is currently being formulated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to instigate a unified visa system in order to streamline travel for tourists in the region, in much the same way as the Schengen visa has done for Europe.
The announcement, which came from the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta as part of its Tourism Strategic Plan for the next five years, is designed to attract ever more tourists to what is already one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations.
Southeast Asia has a wealth of attractions, ranging from the lost jungle city of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, to the Bali beach resorts in Indonesia, and tempts more than 65 million travelers each year.
This figure could be boosted by replacing the often inefficient, confusing and time consuming visa systems that are currently in place with most ASEAN countries. At present, some countries such as Thailand and Malaysia are relatively easy to enter, with visas on arrival easily obtained. Yet others, such as Vietnam and Myanmar require a mountain of paperwork, photographs and a week to approve.
Visas are currently one of the biggest stumbling blocks that put off many from traveling to the region – rules are constantly changing and tourists never fully understand the visa requirements for each country.
However, while the plan has strong support from Southeast Asian tourism bodies, a unified visa could still be some way off. Countries such as communist-run Laos and Vietnam and military Junta-led Myanmar may be paranoid about making entry to their countries easier, while ASEAN has also acknowledged that the visa may be several years away.
With the notorious bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption of several ASEAN countries to contend with, perhaps it’s not a good idea to hold our breath about this one just yet.