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Visa Free! Southeast Asia (ASEAN) Headed for Travel Model a la EU?

Anyone who’s traveled through Southeast Asia has likely heard of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN), a political and economic alliance with 10 (well) Southeast Asian member countries. For ASEAN passport holders, this means visa-free travel across member nations and (potentially) expedited customs processing at borders (think – separate line for ASEAN passports). The way the model stands today, passports are still required to cross borders across the countries, so while the current framework is certainly convenient, it’s not quite as open as, say, the EU.

But that all could change.


The Scoop

Skift reports that ASEAN wants to implement a single-visa policy for member nations and improved Open Skies agreements between airlines.

We plan to start this between Thailand and Cambodia,” said Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports. We may see this come to fruition by late 2018.

For those who aren’t familiar with ASEAN, the organization includes the following member nations: Indonesia, Thailan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Brunei.

The purpose of this agreement is to boost tourism in the region, by marketing Southeast Asia as one destination. With Thailand and Cambodia, the idea is to push the message of “two countries, one destination”, to encourage tourists to visit both nations instead of choosing between the two.

The potential implications of this move goes beyond Cambodia and Thailand – it has potentially massive economic implications between countries such as China and the Philippines, and Singapore and Indonesia to just name a few – obviously relations between regional partners and powerhouses are complex – but as Europe (the EU) moves away from a Schengen system, the fact that Asia might be open to this move is a massive shift in economic and soft power to the ASEAN region.

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Temples or Palaces? Soon you may not need to choose.


The Takeaway

So we talked about the soft and economic implications of this move, but what of tourism? This is another huge chasm shift in an industry that is a massive presence in a majority (if not all) ASEAN nations – tourism. The free travel zone within the European Union is a huge tourism booster, especially for folks from countries that don’t have visa free or visa waiver access to most countries within the EU. It simply means one EU visa (to say, Spain or Italy) means access to many more countries.

If the same were to happen in Asia, that would be a huge shift both symbolically and practically.

It’s symbolic because of the traditional rivalries between countries in the region despite the ASEAN alliance – and also a marked turn from the trend of popularism in the developed world. But then again it’s got massive practical realities that might really instigate growth in various ASEAN nations, even if countries such as China (likely), Myanmar and Vietnam don’t partake in this potential new scheme.

Let’s be clear here – it’s going to take time for any of this to be actually put into policy and interacted. But, this is a very exciting idea to be floated and very promising for folks who want to travel/backpack around Asia. Again, it’s a pipe dream that ALL involved countries will be open to it, especially the likes of China, but it’s a great development in the bigger scheme of things and for those beach bums in us, for those who might want to travail through Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, this might just be some fantastic news yet.

We’ll keep an eye out on developments, countries with buy in to this idea and passports that will be exempt in this master plan…but overall, we can’t say that we’re anything but excited of this news.

And you? Would an EU style ASEAN visa entice you to come and visit the beautiful beaches, mountains, forests, food and people of Southeast Asia? (The correct answer is yes).

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