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Single tourist visa for 5 SE Asian countries?

Buddhist monks in front of the magnificent Angkor Wat in northern Cambodia. (PHOTO: wikicommons)

Foreign tourists may soon be able to visit Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos on a single visa, as per an initiative recommended at a meeting in Naypyidaw on Monday.

The single visa scheme was proposed by joint business council officials of the five nations at the Ayeyarwady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) meeting in the Burmese capital, and is slated to be submitted to national leaders when they meet on Tuesday for the ACMECS Summit at the Myanmar International Convention Centre.

Burmese state media cited Moe Myint Kyaw, the secretary-general of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, as saying that the proposed scheme would allow visitors to apply for a tourist visa from any one of the countries, which would allow them to visit all five.

The move was an expansion of the ‘Four Countries, One Destination’ programme previously recommended which did not include Thailand’s participation.

At a parallel meeting in Naypyidaw on Monday, representatives of the four countries met for the 7th CLMV [Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar & Vietnam] Summit, at which “the leaders expressed the importance of developing the tourism industry in order to establish the CLMV sub-region as one of the world’s top destinations,” the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

Representatives noted that the CLMV community had witnessed an 11.4 percent increase in tourist arrivals in 2014 – a total of 19.6 million visitors.

The inclusion of Thailand would undoubtedly increase those tourism numbers exponentially; the kingdom is one of the most popular destinations in the world for Asian and European visitors with an annual turnover of more than 26 million tourist arrivals. Bangkok remains the region’s air traffic hub with a host of connections to a variety of cities and resorts in the other four countries.

It is as yet unclear whether the visa scheme would include overland travel or only be permitted through international airports. No time limits or other visa restrictions have yet been tabled.

Other sectors discussed at Naypyidaw’s official meetings included trade and investment, transport, agriculture, and the development of human resources, state media said.

Some three million tourists to Burma in 2014 brought a record US$1.135 billion to the country, according to official figures from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

The number of visitors looks set to continue rising, with Burma listed alongside Cuba as one of the US Tour Operators Association’s “hottest destinations to visit” in 2015.