Asean to delay any visa exemption schemes
No more talks about visa exemptions or visa fee waivers are expected for Asean countries in the foreseeable future as members are focusing on their own rehabilitation plans, the tourism and sports minister said.
At a Special Meeting of Asean Tourism Ministers on Covid-19 via video conference on Wednesday, tourism ministers of the 10 member nations approved in principle the Joint Statement of Asean Tourism Ministers on Strengthening Cooperation to Revitalise Tourism, said Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, the tourism and sports minister.
The region agreed to commit to a prevention plan, with each country sharing information through the Asean Tourism Crisis Communications Team, as well as seeking cooperation from international organisations together to revive travel confidence following the outbreak.
Recovery from the virus was essential before the tourism industry can restart in the region, so members were skipping any discussion of visa policy allowing Asean citizens to travel freely between borders.
"The visa facilitation policy will be reconsidered once Asean can contain the virus spread and travel restrictions in each country are lifted, allowing tourism activities to resume," said Mr Phiphat.
Last year Thailand granted a fee waiver for visa-on-arrival (VOA) from Oct 31, 2019 until April 30, 2020 in an attempt to promote the tourism industry.
But the global spread of the coronavirus in March triggered a decision to cancel the VOA for 18 countries, including China, plus a cancellation of visa exemptions for South Korea, Italy and Hong Kong.
In addition, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand has extended the inbound flight ban until May 31, while Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia also extended their suspension of visa exemptions for foreign travellers, including Asean citizens who used to enjoyed such benefits.
He said the VOA for 18 countries is suspended indefinitely amid the uncertainty of the virus outbreak.
If a vaccine is not developed this year, all Asean members agreed to implement shared standards that highlight social distancing practices as well as safety and hygiene in tourism services.
Mr Phiphat said countries where economic growth relies heavily on tourism such as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore are suffering the most, followed by Indonesia and the Philippines.
Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are facing less impact on their tourism industries, he said.
Each country in this region shares a hopeful view that domestic tourism will restart in July, said Mr Phiphat. The driver of international markets will be Southeast Asian tourists, before expanding to Asia overall, he said.
"If the situation in Asia, including China, Japan and South Korea, can improve by the last quarter, intra-Asia tourism will help mitigate the impact of the pandemic in the region," said Mr Phiphat.