Local reports in Thailand say a new Schengen-style visa system in Southeast Asia could boost tourism – and the wider economy.

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Thailand is looking to boost tourism across Southeast Asia with a new visa scheme.

The Asian nation is advocating for a Schengen-style visa along with five neighbouring countries.

If the proposed system were to go ahead, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos could all become far more easily accessible from Thailand.

Local media reported this week that the Prime Minister of Thailand put forward the plan to improve the country’s chance of achieving its target of 80 million tourists a year by 2027.

What would a Schengen-style visa system look like in Southeast Asia?

Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin is said to be pushing for the joint-visa programme, with the aim of attracting bigger-spending tourists from far flung countries.

Talks with leaders of the neighbouring nations are said to have gone well. The six countries were, in total, visited by some 70 million tourists last year, with Thailand and Malaysia playing host to the majority of that number.

Thailand is facing serious economic challenges amidst a faltering manufacturing sector and diminishing exports. Its popularity with travellers has been crucial for its survival, with the tourist industry making up about 12 per cent of its economy as well as accounting for around 20 per cent of jobs.

The other countries set to be included in the Schengen-style scheme would likely benefit from such a boost, too.

Currently, Europeans can visit Thailand on a 30-day visa exemption, with extensions only available at an extra cost and only in certain locations.

Likewise, Cambodia and Laos offer 30-day e-visas or visas on arrival, while Vietnam offers a 45-day stay visa-free and Malaysia offers 90 days. European tourists must apply online for a Myanmar 28-day tourist visa.

Regional travel experts say any new scheme should instead give 90-day-long visas, meaning that tourists would be able to spend more time in each country they choose to visit.

However, the actual implementation of the process might not be so clear cut.

In Southeast Asia, it may well be a slow process, with bilateral agreements taking time to thrash out in the often complicated political world.

What other changes has Thailand made to international visa agreements?

This week, the Thai authorities revealed that they are planning to remove visa requirements with Australia. While no date has been set as yet, that agreement will likely strengthen the trade deals between two countries as well as boosting tourism.

In March, China and Thailand introduced a mutual, permanent visa-free entry system, meaning citizens can travel between the two countries for stays of up to 30 days. Since put in place, travel bookings have shot up from both nations.

That policy came following a similar implementation in November 2023, where Indian visitors can also travel to Thailand without applying for a visa. These positive moves could inspire more visa-focussed discussions in the near future.

It’s certainly working well for Thailand, which saw a significant increase in international tourists during the first quarter of 2024, welcoming over nine million people.

Chinese tourists – around 1.7 million – accounted for the largest number of visitors to Thailand, followed by travellers from Malaysia, Russia, South Korea and India.

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