The Philippines is strongly pushing for the creation of a single-visa scheme across the 10 member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) as this could significantly boost the country’s tourism industry.

“The strongest proponents of the single Asean visa are countries like Indonesia and the Philippines because we will be benefiting the most from this scheme,” Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. said in a roundtable discussion with the Inquirer last week.

“We are a country that is away from the ‘land mass’ and so everybody else goes by train or by other forms of transportation across the other Asean countries. So when you have a single visa, the tendency for tourists is to say, I’m in Thailand but my visa is good for 10 countries so I might as well go through all the 10,” Jimenez explained.

The proposed scheme, which would be similar to Europe’s unified visa system, will allow non-Asean nationals to enter the 10 member-states of the Asean using a single visa, thus saving them time and resources in securing such documents.

Jimenez admitted that it might take a while before this scheme — which is part of the Asean’s objectives to enhance and accelerate travel facilitation and connectivity — could be realiSed.

“There will be a lot of systems to be involved. The single visa scheme means that the Philippines will respect the visa issued by other countries, say Singapore or Malaysia. That’s easy for us to say. But getting the other countries to say, we accept the Philippine visa would mean that they acknowledge that we have good systems at par with theirs. And it is clear that not all countries are currently prepared to do that,” he pointed out.

The Asean Tourism Plan 2011-2015 noted that a single tourist visa could substantially benefit travel facilitation in the region.

However, there was already an admission then that the “establishment of such a visa will not likely occur in the next five years due to barriers of technology, political issues, concerns of sovereignty and security and the different visa systems in the member states,” the Asean had said.

The Department of Tourism expects tourist arrivals to reach 6 million this year and is still bullish of reaching its target of 10 million arrivals by the end of the Aquino administration in 2016.

The Asean initiated last year a new push in intra-regional travel. Asean tourism ministers agreed last year to promote “Asean for Asean” activities to boost visits of citizens of Asean member nations to other member countries.

The campaign relies heavily on organiSing travel and tourism fairs, seminars, conferences and other related activities promoting Asean tourism.

As a further support for this drive, the website was launched when the ministers gathered in the Laotian capital of Vientiane for their sixth meeting.

According to a joint statement from the meeting, the website was meant to strengthen the flow of tourism information within the region and enhance awareness about cooperation activities in Asean tourism.

Based on the Asean Tourism Marketing Strategy 2012-2015, cooperation is focused on developing four main regional tourism products — nature, cultural and heritage, community, and cruise and river-based tourism.

Photo Credit: A scuba diver swims next to a whale shark as it is fed from a feeder boat off the beach of Tan-awan, Oslob, in the southern Philippines island of Cebu. David Loh / Reuters