“We’d lose the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore freely in the re­gion’s di­verse, rich des­ti­na­tions”

Asian Geographic - - Front Page - Jonathan Chang

For the tourism in­dus­try, the ex­is­tence of ASEAN as a gov­ern­ing body has been an im­mense bless­ing. Ounethouang Khao­phanh, the Lao­tian Deputy Min­is­ter of In­for­ma­tion, Cul­ture and Tourism, said it best in April’s ASEAN Tourism Com­mit­tee Meet­ing in the UNESCO World Her­itage City of Luang Pra­bang: “Tourism is one of the most sig­nif­i­cant and [high­est] pri­or­ity sec­tors. It con­trib­utes to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and gen­er­ates a huge amount of in­come and jobs in the ASEAN re­gion and world­wide.”

Be­ing part of ASEAN means be­ing part of a big­ger pool of re­sources and sup­port when it comes to cross pro­mo­tions, air­port con­trols, and new tourist des­ti­na­tions. If ASEAN didn’t ex­ist, there would be no more in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal body to sup­port the tourism in­dus­try. Less de­vel­oped economies would have a harder time at­tract­ing re­gional tourists. Costs of travel would in­crease with­out the ASEAN um­brella that waives tax and du­ties. Lo­cal jobs, like tour guides, driv­ers, hospi­tal­ity work­ers and small mer­chants, would all be greatly re­duced. Trav­ellers would no longer be able to take ad­van­tage of ded­i­cated lanes for ASEAN pass­port hold­ers.

Means to travel have im­proved over the years with the emer­gence of re­gional air­lines serv­ing the bur­geon­ing mid­dle class and young peo­ple ea­ger to ex­plore what the world has to of­fer. Low bud­get travel within the re­gion has soared thanks to visa-free agree­ments. Nearly half of ASEAN tourists are from the re­gion it­self, and tourism com­prises an in­creas­ing per­cent­age of na­tional in­comes, es­pe­cially for coun­tries like Myan­mar and Cam­bo­dia.

Lock­ing away all this means we’d lose one of the most fun and joy­ful ac­tiv­i­ties for in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies to do – travel. We’d lose the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore freely in the re­gion’s di­verse, rich des­ti­na­tions: smoul­der­ing vol­ca­noes, white sand beaches, lush trop­i­cal rain­forests, and bustling me­trop­o­lises with tow­er­ing sky­scrapers. We’d lose the op­por­tu­nity to show­case South­east Asia to the world and one an­other. Let’s hope that the dis­ap­pear­ance of ASEAN re­mains a the­ory – a the­ory that will never tran­spire.

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