The proposal is aimed at luring more rich tourists to the region © Getty Images / itsskin

Thailand has come up with an idea for a Schengen-like zone in Southeast Asia to attract more high-spending tourists to the region, Bloomberg reported on Saturday.

According to the report, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has pitched the idea to his counterparts in Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Vietnam, and the countries have been discussing the initiative at length in recent months.

The plan would mean establishing an area resembling the European Union’s passport-free travel space. It would enable tourists to travel visa-free among the six neighboring nations, which Thavisin believes will help generate more revenue per tourist. Most leaders have reportedly welcomed the idea, but the report does not mention which stage the discussions are at currently.

The idea of establishing a Schengen-like zone in the region has been under consideration for years. ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) announced plans to create a single-visa travel system back in 2011, but the efforts stalled due to significant differences in member-states’ individual visa regimes.

The idea may still prove challenging today, according to Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor at Chulalongkorn University’s political science faculty. He told the news outlet that a single visa scheme would require coordinating approvals due to the lack of standardized immigration criteria in each country, in contrast to the European Union.

Bill Barnett, managing director of hospitality and property consultancy C9 Hotelworks, suggested that it would be easier to start implementing the visa-free scheme country by country.

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“Bilateral agreements, where governments are leading the way for this type of thing, make a lot of sense as they are looking outward and not inward,” he stated, as cited by Bloomberg. He also said that the initiative could turn out to be beneficial not only for the local tourism industry, but also for business travel and trade.

The six nations reported a combined 70 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2023, according to official data. Thailand and Malaysia accounted for more than half of the arrivals.

Tourism is a major source of income for Thailand, accounting for about 12% of the nation’s nearly $500 billion economy. The number of foreign tourist arrivals in Thailand jumped by 20% in 2023 from the previous year, to more than 27 million, the highest since the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Bangkok seeks to raise this number to 80 million by 2027, to further boost earnings from the industry. (RT)