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