Source: Bangkok Post
By Soonya Vanichkorn

Asean countries need to make tourism a mainstream development strategy, with proactive measures aimed at reducing obstacles to travel mobility in the best attempt to reap the benefits of regional economic integration, says Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

“Most people acknowledge that travel contributes to job creation and economic growth, yet cumbersome and outdated visa procedures are still a major impediment to the growth of travel,” Dr Supachai said on the sidelines of a session entitled “Reducing Obstacles to Travel Mobility” at the World Economic Forum.

Mr Supachai said immigration and security departments in each country must meet each other more often to share information and data on security matters.

Countries must also work at the diplomatic level and take the bold initiative to go beyond reciprocity and allow people from other countries to travel into theirs without the same measures being undertaken by the other side first, he said.

Dr Supachai also urged Asean countries to adopt online or electronic tourism systems and modern technology to facilitate travel mobility.

E-tourism systems convert information Web pages into a marketing Web page. It helps both sending and destination countries to learn of the routes of the traveller that is also conducive for security measures.

Alexander Rayner, a special adviser to the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, said after completing the single visa entry procedures, Asean countries must work towards implementing an e-visa solution to reduce obstructions to labour mobility in the region.

E-visas are not only more efficient for travellers but also better for security.

It can be brought about through public private partnerships, in terms of sharing and exchanging data, said Mr Rayner.

Mexican Tourism Secretary Gloria Guevara Manzo said her country had implemented the usage of e-visas, allowing persons holding visas from Russia, Brazil and China to enter the country without having to obtain a separate Mexican visa. As a result 750,000 more people visited the country.

A similar process is about to be undertaken with holders of the Schengen Visa in Europe.

Simon Cooper, Marriott International’s president and managing director for Asia Pacific, said to make the e-visa happen, the private sector _ hotels, tourism agencies or airlines _ have to speak together in one voice and push for the economic benefits of the tourism industry with governments.

Douglas Smith, the assistant secretary for the private sector at the US Homeland Security Department, suggested that in order to reduce the obstacles to travel mobility, governments will need to collaborate more with each other to share and exchange information in real-time fashion in a controlled environment, as people tend to travel very quickly internationally.

The US has also undertaken a measure known as the global entry that allows people from certain countries to simply pass through kiosks at immigration, thereby reducing the time spent waiting in queues and funds needed to pay for staff.