CHIANG RAI -The reality of a single-visa for visitors to the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) took a small step towards reality with a forum of public and private sector representatives from the countries concerned vowing to push their governments to speed up implementing the proposal.
Comprising Thailand, China (specifically Yunnan Province and the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region), Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, the GMS single-visa proposal is expected to see a significant boost in tourism between member countries, and is a prelude to a wider Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations.) plan to include tourists from an additional six non-member countries; Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, on a similarly styled single visa.
Though no Asean member has yet adopted the broader plan, Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Board, said his agency will raise the Asean single-visa issue at a session of the Committee on Economic Cooperation with neighboring countries later this month.
While it is unlikely that all six nations comprising the GMS will be in a position to implement the single-visa plan concurrently, Chiang Rai Chamber of Commerce has suggested those that were could go ahead first, acting as trail blazers on the advanced implementation of the scheme.
Highway R3 connecting Kunming, Laos and Thailand has been completed in preparation of the implementation of the GMS one-visa proposal, while the Chinese government is paying half the cost of constructing a fourth bridge across the Mekong River, between Chiang Khong in Chiang Rai Province and Huay Xai in Lao, which will be completed next year.
Tourist arrivals by land are poised to soar once more immigration facilities can be set up, especially for Chinese visitors, with the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimating China will be the world’s fourth largest source of outbound tourists by 2020, accounting for 100 million visitors.
UNWTO said East Asian arrivals in Thailand grew by 11.4 per cent to 4.41 million last year, with the number of Chinese visitors rising by 44 per cent to 1.12 million.
According to Mr. Arkhom, GMS countries understand tourism’s potential and have been improving facilities to attract more visitors to places such as Luang Prabang, Laos, a Unesco World Heritage site, with the city upgrading its airport to accommodate Boeing 737s and improving the highway between Thailand’s Nan Province and Jinghong city in China.