Tourism officials spoke to Viet Nam News about the importance of co-operation among ASEAN countries on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Ha Noi yesterday, April 5.

Tourism co-operation is part of an overall co-operation framework among members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Tourism is one of very important co-operation fields as tourism is accompanied by opportunities to enhance mutual understanding, which is the grounds for development in trade, culture and politics. ASEAN is also one of five key markets for Viet Nam\’s tourism sector. The number of ASEAN tourists accounts for about one-fifth of international tourists to Viet Nam. In particular, in the wake of the credit crunch and hiking fuel prices, all countries, including Viet Nam, are tending to return to closer markets, making ASEAN even more important. Pushing co-operation among the ASEAN members will make it easier for the country to access those markets. Other sectors might see competition among neigh-bouring countries but in tourism, co-operation always brings mutual benefits. When a non-ASEAN tourist visits a country in the ASEAN, they often tend to go to some other countries. Therefore, if Viet Nam co-operates with other countries in the region, they will offer a much more interesting package than promoting only one single tourism site. Many ASEAN tourists visit Members of the Association of the South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) received more than 65 million international tourists last year, up 12 per cent against 2009, according to deputy director of Viet Nam Administration of Tourism Hoang Thi Diep Of that number, foreign tourists from other ASEAN countries accounted for 45 per cent. About 1 million tourists from other ASEAN countries visited Viet Nam last year, accounting for one-fifth of all international tourists of the country. Most came from Thailand, Myanmar tourism and Cambodia tourism. The 2011-15 ASEAN Tourism Strategy was adopted by tourism ministers of member countries last January. The document focuses on co-operation in developing tourism products, improving services by setting up common standards for them, and promoting tourism of the ASEAN as a whole. Viet Nam has done well with Laos and Cambodia in that sense. Road-way package tours for Viet Nam-Laos-Thailand and Viet Nam-Laos-Thailand-Myanmar have been offered. The country can also do sea-route tourism packages with Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. As co-operation is being stepped up within the ASEAN, member countries can exchange experiences and learn from each other. For instance, Viet Nam can learn from Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, which have very strong tourism industries. To create better conditions for non-ASEAN tourists to travel within the region, ASEAN needs to have common policies and give a priority to improve travel issues, including visas and transportation. Viet Nam has now visa-free agreements with other ASEAN countries, except for Myanmar, with whom negotiations towards a similar deal are still on-going. Viet Nam and other ASEAN countries are also discussing a single visa initiative for the whole region. Mohmed Razip Hasan, director of Communications and Publicity division, the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board ASEAN itself is a very big market. It offers many unique products, while some of the products in different member countries are similar. Therefore it\’s very important that ASEAN countries speak in one voice when promoting themselves as a very attractive destination region. We have to work together. We should share a common ground and common identity. I know it will be very challenging because ASEAN is a large region but efforts must be continuously made and never given up. At the end of the day, we would expect that more international tourists will come to this region. It is expected that we will have better access for travel within the ASEAN by 2015. For instance, we will have low-cost carriers that fly to all corners of the region and also to other parts of the world. Better connectivity, better transportation infrastructure and better border crossing are all important. The region will need to have a single mission – different countries, but one single goal. Once tourists visit one part of the ASEAN, they can easily go to other parts of the region. * Sounh Manivong, director general of the Lao National Tourism Administration I also expect ASEAN common tourism products to attract international visitors to Laos. The Lao tourism industry has committed itself to improving its service quality and creating favourable conditions for tourists to travel. Tourists can now get a visa at the border at 20 out of our 23 international border gates. VietNamNet/Viet Nam News