Next-Level Tourism: Thailand's Push for Schengen-Style Visa Strategy in ASEAN

Next-Level Tourism: Thailand's Push for Schengen-Style Visa Strategy in ASEAN

Thailand is spearheading a joint visa program with five other countries, which collectively welcomed around 70 million tourists in 2023. This initiative aligns with Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin's efforts to attract more high-spending long-haul tourists.

Minister Srettha has been discussing the Schengen-style visa idea with leaders from Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Vietnam in recent months, and the majority of leaders from these  countries have welcomed the idea. The goal of this initiative is to ensure smooth movement for tourists among these six nations.

Official data shows that six Southeast Asian countries recorded 70 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2023. Thailand and Malaysia together accounted for over half of this number, with total tourism revenue reaching around US$48 billion.

The single-visa concept is one of several tourism initiatives championed by Minister Srettha, which, although targeted for the long term, remains the most ambitious. The tourism industry has made significant contributions to the country, providing about 20% of total employment and contributing around 12% to the nation's US$500 billion economy.

Despite challenges during the pandemic, the tourism sector has continued to grow rapidly and serve as a bulwark against declines in manufacturing and exports, the traditional pillars of the economy.

Under Minister Srettha's leadership, the Thai government has set a target of attracting 80 million tourists by 2027. Within seven months of taking office, they have also successfully signed reciprocal visa waiver agreements with China, Thailand's largest tourist market, while offering temporary visa waivers for tourists from India, Taiwan, and Kazakhstan.

They are also considering plans to open casinos in large entertainment complexes and focus on event-based tourism, which is expected to support increased national revenue.

However, implementing a Schengen-style visa may pose challenges given ASEAN's limited ability to establish multilateral policy frameworks and its reputation as a dialogue platform. For a joint visa scheme, approvals need to be synchronized, but differing immigration criteria among participating countries can complicate matters, unlike the situation in the European Union with more uniform standards. ASEAN is seen as a divided group with a history of unsatisfactory immigration practices, adding complexity to implementing a joint visa plan.

Source: Bloomberg

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