“People need to flow throughout the region like the Mekong flows,” said Minister of Tourism, Veng Sereyvuth, after returning from Jakarta, where he attended the Meeting of Asean Tourism Ministers
The ATF meeting was the fifth in a series of meetings in preparation for the Asean Tourism Forum that will bring some 1,000 visitors to Phnom Penh on Jan 21- 28, 2003.
At the Jakarta meeting, Asean tourism officials discussed a need for regional cooperation to make intra-Asean tourism more convenient for travelers.
Veng Sereyvuth proposed an Asean tourism agreement that he hopes will eliminate barriers to travel within the region. “I think there should be a collective effort to promote this rich and diverse area, highlighting Asean as a region,” he said. “There is more to market, if we market [the region as] a brand.”
Veng Sereyvuth said that the proposal, which is endorsed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, would include initiatives to eliminate visa and airport fees, facilitate more convenient land and river border crossings and promote the region as a whole. Cooperation on security and law enforcement would also be necessary to make tourist feel safe and confident in their travels.
Meng Hieng, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, agreed that these measures are a “great” idea, but he is concerned that they might not see the light of day. “We have discussed this many, many times and it is a tough agreement to get signed”
Waiving visa fees and airport taxes could potentially eliminate much needed revenue for a developing nation like Cambodia, Meng Hieng added. But he acknowledged that “the idea is not to make $20 from visas and fees, but $300 or $500 from people’s journeys [to Cambodia].”
Veng Sereyvuth said that the different governments have different views and time frames for the implementation of such measures. “It is a fact of life,” he said, “but we can agree on principle so an agreement can be signed [on time]. Do it now. Why not? With [Sept 11] and the economic downturn we must do something, now is the right time.”
The minister hopes that a draft of the agreement can be signed by the end of 2002, in time for the Asean Tourism Forum.
“When [the agreement] is signed I’m sure that it will be very easy to be implemented,” Veng Sereyvuth said. “We are a newly emerging developing country with a long way to go, but we have complete confidence, we can do a lot. In five to 10 years all concerns will be realized.”