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Laos mulls regional single visa scheme

Laos is considering the introduction of single visas to streamline tourist entry in the hope of attracting more visitors and driving growth in the industry.

Neighbouring Thailand and Cambodia recently signed an agreement to allow foreign tourists to enter either country using one visa, making the two countries the first in the region to introduce the scheme.

A Lao delegation plans to visit Cambodia, possibly at the end of this month, to study the experience of Cambodia regarding the single visa scheme and the procedures involved, a senior official at the Consular Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Vientiane Times yesterday.

“Cambodia has responded to our request concerning the study visit,” he said. “We are keen to know if the visa fee is shared and, if it is, how this is done.”

There have been repeated calls from businesses across the region encouraging their governments to introduce a single visa policy.

The latest call came last week at the 5th Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) Summit in Vientiane. ACMECS leaders and business representatives from the member countries - Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam - met on the sidelines of the summit to discuss the issue.

The business sector encouraged other ACMECS countries to follow the lead of Thailand and Cambodia and introduce the single visa scheme by 2015.

“The progressive implementation of an ACMECS single visa scheme would help to promote the realisation of the ‘five countries, one destination' concept,” said the Chair of the ACMECS Joint Business Council, Mr Kissana Vongsay.

Mr Kissana, who is President of the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, delivered a report to the meeting of ACMECS leaders, which was agreed upon by the businesses concerned.

Acting President of the Lao Association of Travel Agents, Mr Khamtanh Keungpan Nha, said that if the single visa is introduced it would encourage many more people to visit Laos.

He added that the issue was also discussed at the recent Asean Tourism Forum that took place in Vientiane in November.

Director General of the National Economic Research Institute, Dr Liber Libuapao, suggested there would be more economic benefit than loss if the scheme were introduced.

But he recommended that there should be a mechanism to share the visa fee. If not, then for several reasons Laos could be disadvantaged.

Dr Liber said the potential disadvantage was largely due to the fact that Laos is usually considered by tourists as a second destination rather than their primary one, so the visa fee would be collected by the first country visited.

Laos does not have direct flights with many countries, but others in the region do. Tourists could simply pay for a visa in one of those countries and travel on to Laos, meaning other countries would benefit while Laos would lose out, Dr Liber said.

At present, tourists entering Laos must pay a visa fee of between US$14 and US$42 depending on their nationality.

Last year, 3.3 million tourists visited Laos.

By Souksakhone Vaenkeo
(Latest Update March 18, 2013)

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