Mekong visa plan ‘years’ away: tourism body

The prospect of a single tourist visa for the six countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region remains remote but could be discussed at a meeting in Bagan in November, a spokesperson from the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office said last week.

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Tourism ministers from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam are expected to attend the GMS Working Group Meeting, as well as representatives from the private sector.

The MTCO spokesperson said a major sticking point for introducing the single visa was the likely negative impact on revenue from tourist visas, which she described as a “golden goose” for some GMS countries.

“It may take years before the countries agree on [the single visa] and then implementation will remain a big challenge, including who collects the money and how is it spread among the countries. Thailand had agreed since 2009 on a single visa scheme but this was never implemented,” the spokesperson told The Myanmar Times.

“The single visa project … is a long-term project. In principle the ministries of tourism are willing to move into this direction but the decision needs to be made at the highest government level.”

It was not even certain the issue would be raised in November, she said, as the agenda has not yet been developed.

While the visa would likely increase arrivals and make travel between the six countries easier, the spokesperson said governments should focus on spreading the benefits of tourism further among their populations.

“I believe the priority is to promote and facilitate a more controlled development of tourism … rather than looking only at numbers of arrivals [and a policy that] benefits mainly a few big enterprises, which are reaping most of the benefits,” she said.

She also recommended studies into “how tourism can benefit the destinations and contribute to the economic development of the local communities”.

“Tourism is a fantastic sector of activity that truly supports the human and economic development at the local level if developed in a sustainable manner. The countries will benefit even more in the long run if they recognise that and implement accordingly.”

According to statistics from the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, tourist arrivals in Myanmar totalled 172,244 in the first six months of 2011, an increase of 22.83 percent on the same period last year.

Almost two-thirds of visitors were from Asian countries, including 35,459 from Thailand – the largest single national group – and China, with 17,944 visitors. About 11,003 visitors came from the South Korea.

Arrivals from European countries totalled 39,734 in the first six months of 2011, representing 23.03pc of all tourists. France led the way with 9435 visitors, followed by Germany with 6119 visitors.

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(Source: Myanmar Times)