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ASEAN countries agree to ease visa regulations

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The 15th ASEAN Tourism Ministers Meeting at the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2012 in Manado, North Sulawesi, produced 7 core agreements to support the implementation of the “ASEAN Tourism Strategic Pla

The 15th ASEAN Tourism Ministers Meeting at the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2012 in Manado, North Sulawesi, produced 7 core agreements to support the implementation of the “ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan” (ATSP) 2011-2015.

First, member countries agreed on furthering the integration of ASEAN tourism; second, increase connectivity between ASEAN nations; third, increase human resource capacities for tourism; fourth, ensure the quality of tourism services; fifth, create ASEAN tourism marketing strategies; sixth, develop ASEAN tourism products; and seventh, cooperate with ASEAN partner countries on tourism marketing and development.

Indonesia’s Minister for Tourism and Creative Economy, Mari Elka Pangestu, chair of the ASEAN Ministers Meeting, stated that the tourism ministers of ASEAN countries acknowledged that there have been significant improvements in the implementation of ATSP in all tourism taskforces

Minister Mari Pangestu added that developments were made in communications and transportation that facilitated tourists to travel, one of these components is the ASEAN Open Sky policy, which will endorse international airlines to open routes that connected to ASEAN. She also stated that efforts are conducted to resolve the visa and entry procedures so that the “free movements” among ASEAN peoples can be achieved. As for non-ASEAN visitors, the “ASEAN common visa” will be resolved in the near future to create an “ASEAN Schengen.”

On the subject of improvements in tourism services and human resources in ASEAN, she added that agreement has been reached on several standards of services ranging from human resources, facilities, and also accommodation standardization for eco-hotel, home-stay, and spa. For the security system, there will be a “security guideline” for tourism.

Other agreements achieved in the marketing strategy is the launch of the branding: “ASEAN, Southeast Asia: Feel the Warmth.” Minister Mari Pangestu stated that there will be regular data and information analyses concerning ASEAN tourism marketing strategies.

ASEAN tourism product enrichment will also be conducted as one of the strategies to attract foreign tourists to come to the region. Four main ASEAN products to be developed are: cruising and river-based tourism, nature-based tourism, culture and heritage tourism, and community-based tourism. Minister Pangestu looked forward to the creation of thematic packages, for example a Sail ASEAN, that takes the route of Malaka-Karimata-South China Sea-Gulf of Thailand. ASEAN cruising should grow like in the Caribbean, which covers 27 countries.

Meanwhile, officially opening ATF 2012 on January 12, Vice President Boediono warned of the impact that the growing economic crisis in Europe will have on tourism.

“The crisis has hit European countries and the United States of America and caused the number of unemployment in those countries to increase,” said Vice President Boediono. Considering that Europe and the USA contributed highly to the ASEAN tourism industries, this condition will undeniably have impact. “The fact is that Europe is the largest market for the region, and at the moment, Europe is seemingly in trouble,” said the Vice President.

Vice President Boediono sees that the continuously-growing economies of Asia and other growing economies can be an option as an alternative market source besides the European markets which are projected to decrease due to the crisis. He pointed out an example stating that 43 percent of foreign tourists in ASEAN countries are from within the ASEAN countries itself, while 2/3 of the total came from the region of ASEAN plus China, Korea, Japan, India, and New Zealand.

“With a strong growth of the economy that has boosted a burgeoning ASEAN middle class, the Asia markets should be a new focus for the tourism industry,” said Vice President Boediono.

In this context, the ASEAN tourism ministers also held a joint tourism meeting with representatives from Japan, China, South Korea, and India to strengthen tourism between these Asian countries.