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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Vijay Eswaran Makes the Case for Barrier Free Travel in Southeast Asia

The tourism and travel industries have faced a unique set of challenges in recent years in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. After more than two years of disruption and, in many cases, outright restriction, the industry is finally starting to show signs of growth. In fact, travel and tourism have rebounded to almost their pre-pandemic levels when looking at revenue generation and overall contribution to the global GDP. As countries reacclimate to this new normal, proponents of regional economic growth like entrepreneur and philanthropist Vijay Eswaran are speaking out for the need for entities to work together to hasten and expand this growth.

In a recent op-ed, Eswaran noted the importance of travel and tourism to countries that participate in ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This group, made up of 10 member nations, comes together to find new ways for the different cultures and economies to work together to grow the region’s prosperity and role in the global market. Eswaran shared how essential tourism is to these countries, and how “even during the height of the pandemic, tourism remained a resilient industry, contributing 12% to Thailand’s GDP.” But tourism does more than just pull in new travelers to a region to take interest in its scenery and wares. The industry provides jobs for many across sectors encompassing everything from communications to agriculture.

Coming together to make travel easier not just for Western travelers but for ASEAN member nation citizens is something Vijay Eswaran is passionate about. Breaking down barriers to access to member nations can help bolster local or regional tourism while also generating the demand needed to create more jobs for local economies. This will require a new level of cooperation, something that Eswaran is optimistic about. “ASEAN has shown it can move decisively toward an open and free travel environment,” he said. “This attitude of cooperation and collaboration has resulted in many benefits for the region and its people. By committing ourselves to removing the remaining barriers to travel, ASEAN can maximize those benefits and lift our region even higher.”

To do this, ASEAN countries need to place an emphasis on safety and security to reassure travelers that they can enjoy their travel without risk. Recent Google search data revealed that there has been a 165 percent increase in travel insurance-related searches for several ASEAN nations, showing more demand for tourism while also demonstrating a lack of certainty that needs to be addressed.

Another area that could benefit from modernization according to Eswaran is the visa requirements that are place for tourists. As of now, each nation has different rules and regulations for allowing visitors from other ASEAN countries, not to mention the world over, making it difficult for regional tourism to flourish. Vijay Eswaran advocates that having a universal ASEAN visa could help encourage travelers to explore nearby countries, perhaps more than one in a single trip due to their close proximity. While an ASEAN visa has been discussed by the association, the full benefits of the agreement between nations have not been rolled out yet, delaying the reduction in restrictions and continuing to inhibit economic benefits in the process.

Eswaran is well aware that individual nation states need to step up to the table and present their best selves as well when courting tourists. This includes improving vital infrastructure throughout their countries, which will not only make it more appealing and easier for tourists to visit but also will bolster local economic growth. While the region has a Master Plan 2025 in place, demonstrating the commitment to upgrading foundational elements such as road, air, and sea transportation, Eswaran feels that ASEAN countries need to reiterate their understanding of the import of such a commitment. “As other economic priorities emerge, it is imperative that ASEAN remains focused on strengthening the region’s connectivity to reap the benefits of barrier-free travel.”

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