The 10 leaders of Asean countries signed a tourism agreement on the opening day of the Asean Summit in Phnom Penh that will increase transportation routes and loosen visa requirements for travelers to Asean countries, officials said Monday.
The pact also aims to strengthen security in the region in the wake of the attacks in Bali, Indonesia, and the Philippines, said minister of Tourism Veng Sereyvuth on Monday, just minutes after the heads of state signed the accord.
“This is an important step to strengthen the regional economic market,” Veng Sereyvuth said.
Although no Asean leader commented on the pact during the signing of the agreement, Prime Minister Hun Sen said during his address to the Asean leaders on Monday that promoting tourism was one of the four main points he would raise.
“Tourism plays a strategic role in generating economic growth, and also promotes Asean’s diverse social, cultural and historical heritage,” Hun Sen states in a copy of his speech. “Tourism has demonstrated its economic power by supporting the rapid recovery of some Asean economies from the Asian Financial crisis.”
An estimated 41 million international visitors arrived in Asean countries in 2001—up from 29.6 million in 1995, according to statistics published in a report from the recent Asean tourism meeting in Laos.
The tourism industries in Indonesia and the Philippines have taken a hit recently after terrorists detonated a bomb on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali, killing nearly 200 people. The effects of the Bali bombing are expected to reverberate throughout all of Southeast Asia and could scare tourists from other destinations such as Thailand, or even, possibly, Angkor Wat, experts say.
It is this fear that has driven Asean countries to step up their campaigns against the perceived terrorist threat. The leaders released a joint declaration Sunday denouncing terrorism and asking the international community to “avoid indiscriminately advising their citizens to refrain from visiting…our countries.”