Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin of Thailand is leading an initiative to create a joint-visa program with nations that collectively hosted around 70 million tourists last year. This initiative is aimed at bolstering Thailand’s attractiveness to long-distance travelers, who typically contribute more to the economy during their stays.

Over the past few months, Srettha, dedicated to reshaping Thailand from a tourist destination into a central aviation and logistics hub, has been in talks with leaders of Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. They’re discussing the potential implementation of a visa system akin to Schengen. This endeavor seeks to simplify and open up travel among these six neighboring nations, fostering effortless mobility for travelers.

In 2023, six Southeast Asian nations collectively hosted 70 million foreign tourists, with Thailand and Malaysia accounting for more than half of this number. This influx generated approximately $48 billion in tourism revenue for the region.

Srettha’s single-visa initiative emerges as a hallmark of their ambitious tourism strategy, albeit with a focus on long-term implementation. With the industry holding substantial economic weight contributing around 20% to total employment and constituting roughly 12% of the nation’s $500 billion economy, tourism stands as a pivotal economic pillar. Except for the pandemic years, tourism has demonstrated consistent growth, providing a cushion against declines in manufacturing and exports, which traditionally anchor the economy.

Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, a former president of the Thai Hotels Association, expresses optimism within the tourism industry, suggesting that a shared visa akin to the Schengen visa could facilitate more efficient decision-making for long-haul travelers. She proposes extending the visa validity from the usual 30-day period to 90 days to further enhance its attractiveness.

Seetha’s administration has set an ambitious goal of drawing in 80 million tourists by 2027. In the nearly seven months since taking office, the government has rolled out numerous initiatives to meet this target. These efforts encompass signing a reciprocal visa waiver agreement with China and introducing temporary visa waivers for visitors from India, Taiwan, and Kazakhstan.

Creating a visa system akin to Schengen, allowing unrestricted travel across ASEAN’s border-free zone, could encounter hurdles. ASEAN has a track record of sluggish advancement in implementing multilateral policies, often being seen more as a discussion platform than an entity taking decisive action.

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