PH, three other Asean nations agree to work on common smart visa

Ministers and tourism authorities of the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Indonesia have expressed their intention to collaborate with relevant government agencies and other stakeholders to facilitate travel in the region by developing a common smart visa system.

The Asean countries have signed the “Statement of Intent on Smart Visa” on Wednesday, June 5, at the 22nd World Economic Forum on East Asia currently taking place in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar (Burma).

The initiative is the first global implementation of the smart visa system.

According to www.smartvisa.travel, a smart visa is a digital paperless substitute for a traditional visa that can be obtained by a traveler from a travel agent or participating airline at the time of making a travel reservation or online through an Internet portal or through a mobile device such as a smart phone.

The first smart visa, the website said, was introduced by Australia in 1996, called an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), driven by the Sydney 2000 Olympics need to process large volumes of visa applications during a specific time period.

“The success of the Australian smart visa system resulted in the introduction of smart visa systems by Armenia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Cambodia, and most recently in Sri Lanka,” it noted.

The website said an alternative system – the electronic visa or e-visa – is also being considered by many countries.

“However, the cost is high for a standalone system, a major issue particularly for developing countries. There is a need for a globally interoperable central system that can be shared by multiple countries,” it said.

The statement of intent from Asean member-states forms a part of joint efforts to improve growth of the national and regional travel and tourism sectors along with social integration.

More specifically, ministers of tourism have agreed to collaborate on working towards the Asean Common Visa initiative as called upon by leaders at the Asean Summit, which took place in Jakarta in November 2011.

It also builds on the single visa scheme for tourism travel between Cambodia and Thailand, which was implemented on January 1, 2013. Progressive relaxation and an Asean common visa would also benefit non-Asean nationals who intend to visit the Asean countries.

“By recognizing the importance of the connectivity in tourism activities, the statement of intent expresses our desire to give a boost to the tourism sector by facilitating the movement of tourists across borders; by going towards a smart visa through adopting best practices; and maximizing the use of technology to reduce the inefficiencies of the traditional visa application process,” stated Department of Tourism secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr.

Given the experience of other countries and regions, it is expected that Asean countries will also experience the positive impact of implementing a smart visa on the growth of the tourism sector, increased investments in the travel and tourism industry, and job creation.