Infrastructure Remains ASEAN Weakness According to WTTC Global Summit Participants

ASEAN tourism development remains hindered by a lack of efficient infrastructure. This came out of WTTC Global Summit session dedicated to “Freedom of Travel-Can ASEAN Countries lead the way?” ASEAN has been one of the most progressive part of the world to offer visa on arrival or no visa at all to many countries with Indonesia now being among the top destinations in the world offering free visa on arrival to almost anyone.

“We now have 169 countries which citizens can enter without having a visa. This is to compared to 2014 when only roughly 15 countries benefited of such facilities”, explained Indonesia Minister of Tourism Arief Yahya.

“This policy had a tremendous effect on our arrivals. On average, countries benefiting of free visa on arrivals have seen the number of inbound tourists growing double-digit, at an average rate of over 20%. Some countries even saw total arrivals jumping by 40%”, added Indonesia Minister of Tourism. According to Yahya, Indonesia gives today more free visas on arrivals to the rest of the world than Singapore or Thailand. “We think that it would be a bold step to see ASEAN adopting a single visa for non-ASEAN travellers. We have seen within the EU a sharp increase in intra-travels from non-EU visitors”, advocated Arun Mishra, Regional Director of ICAO Asia & Pacific Office.

Another way to continue to increase the flexibility of travelling within ASEAN would be to achieve a complete open-skies policy for the region. “For airlines wanting to use seventh freedom traffic rights [the possibility to carry passengers or cargo between two foreign countries without any continuing service to the airline’s own country of origin such as Thai Airways flying Kuala Lumpur-Bali without stopping in Bangkok], the only way so far is to multiply joint venture with a local partner in each country they would like to start an operational base”, added Arun Mishra.

Although significant progress occurred to open ASEAN skies to airlines based in the Association, more need to be done. And for participants to the Session, the biggest handicap faced by tourism within the region remains the lack of infrastructure. 52% of the participants expressed that view, far ahead of human resources or regulation (22% judged it a handicap) and marketing (6% of all answers). “We see for example that many of the primary airports such as Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, Jakarta or Manila are already totally saturated while a single ASEAN air navigation system is a distant dream”, said ICAO Regional Director.

Indonesia Ministry of Tourism acknowledged that the complexity of investments regulations with many intermediaries is certainly an element which turns away investors. The absolute priority for infrastructure is also supported by both Thailand Minister of Tourism, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul and Philippines State Secretary for Tourism, Wanda Corazon Teo.

While the free movements of ASEAN people to work in the tourism industry is still at its beginning with countries often keeping “nationalist reflexes” when implementing an employment policy.

“Our aim should be that 50% of all visitors to ASEAN should be from our own region by 2020 compared to 40% today. We should make ASEAN single branding more visible”, acknowledged Indonesia Minister of Tourism, Arief Yahya. Is it the expression of a stake vow or pf a real will? Only future will tell.