VIENTIANE, Laos – Representatives of the ten ASEAN nations met on Sunday in Laos’ capital of Vientiane to launch the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF), where they pledged to expand tourism cooperation and discussed creating a pan-ASEAN tourist visa.
The ATF, which was first held in 1981, is designed to facilitate and develop tourism promotion and cooperation across the region. A total of 150 tourism ministers and officials from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam attended the meeting.
Joining them will be 1,450 delegates, including 800 ASEAN exhibitors, 400 international buyers, 150 international and local media as well as 100 tourism trade visitors. Delegates will engage in bilateral talks, sellers and buyers meetings, and receive presentations from various ASEAN nations on their tourism industries.
According to a press release from the ATF, ASEAN leaders will consider the possibility of creating a single pan-ASEAN visa for some member countries to encourage tourists to visit. Leaders have already agreed to put more funding into developing tourism, source more financing from dialogue partners, and to promote tourism in the region.
“As an important economic sector, ASEAN cooperation in tourism has gone from strength to strength,” said Lao Minister of Information, Culture, and Tourism Dr Bosengkham Vongdara. Vongdara cited the increase in total international visitors arriving in the region from 73.7 million people in 2010 to 81.2 million in 2011 as evidence of this cooperation.
Tourism is of particular significance to Laos, one of the least developed countries in South East Asia with few domestic industries. With a population of only 6.3 million people, Laos received approximately half this figure in tourist arrivals in 2012. This contributed significantly to economic growth and development in the country. Arrivals are expected to reach five million by 2015.
Across the various ASEAN member nations, tourism has risen between eight and 29 percent from 2010 2011. The ATF will run from Jan. 18 24.