Asia Visa Process Draws Criticism

Bureaucracy, paperwork, 'outsider' mentality choking tourism, experts say

By: David Evans

Asian countries are losing millions of dollars in tourism revenue because of bureaucratic and draconian visa and immigration procedures, tourism experts say.

“If I was in Bangkok on business and had a few days to spare, I couldn’t go to Burma for the weekend because it would be impossible to get this amount of paperwork processed in an hour or so,” said Australian citizen John King, managing director of Aviation & Tourism Management Pty. Ltd.

King, among a panel of speakers at this month’s Boao Forum for Asia held in Hong Kong, displayed his passport containing several photographs of himself and three sheets of “official” A4-size forms.

“Visas on demand are an important attribute of the change that is happening in the world towards shorter-term travel decisions for discretionary travel as people travel more often, and for shorter periods,” he said. “So the presence of complicated bureaucratic paperwork runs counter to a tendency that is developing in world tourism.”

For a visa to visit Laos, less than an hour’s flight from Bangkok, U.S. passport holders need to submit three applications and six photographs. The application will take nine working days to process and cost $50. The lengthy procedure makes spontaneous travel decisions difficult.

Experts said that behind much of the bureaucracy is a mistrust of “outsiders.” Some countries are only just beginning to embrace the idea of global trade, let alone tourism, they said.

Toru Nakamura, chairman of the Japan Tourism Association, called on regional governments to streamline their immigration process to help boost the growth of Asia’s travel and tourism industry.

“We need the governments to simplify passenger travel,” he said. “Governments should spend the money on infrastructure to make visa issue and immigration as smooth and quick as possible.”

Geoffrey Lipman, World Travel Organisation special advisor to the secretary general and former president of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said he believes the challenge facing the industry in the current climate of uncertainty is how to curb the expansion of visas when security is a dominant concern.

The issue not only applies to developing nations in Asia, but also to Europe and the United States.

“The way to deal with it is to insist on the most simplified and straightforward of electronic and on-demand processes,” he said. “And to try and hold the fort against the expansion of the visa system.”