Thailand to propose single-visa plan to Laos
Thailand is to invite Laos to sign up to a single-visa scheme for foreign tourists when the country's leaders meet at a summit in Chiang Mai on Sunday, a government source said.
After launching a single tourist visa scheme with Cambodia last year, Thailand will now concentrate on coming to a similar agreement with Laos.
The source said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will table the issue in talks with her counterpart, Lao Premier Thongsing Thammavong, at the joint cabinet meeting of the two governments in the northern city.
The plan would benefit the two countries, because tourists would have the freedom to spend time and money in both countries after only having to apply for one visa, the source added.
Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul indicated at a meeting in Hua Hin last month that the single-visa issue might be tabled at the cabinet meeting of the two countries.
Tourism is the second biggest source of income for Laos after the mining industry. Last year 3.3 million people visited Laos. The government has projected that 3.7 million tourists will visit in 2015.
About 22 million tourists came to Thailand last year. It is estimated that the figure could jump to 30 million in the next two years.
The one-visa scheme for Thailand and Cambodia took effect in December last year after years of negotiations. The two countries agreed on the plan in principle in 2005, but it took seven years to implement.
The source said the Laos proposal would take time to develop, but that the joint cabinet meeting was a good place to kick-start the idea.
Laos has been exploring the possibility of introducing a single-visa since seeing its western and southern neighbours join hands on the issue. The country sent officials to study and learn from the experiences of their counterparts in Phnom Penh.
A Lao diplomatic source said the country was not aware of the Thai proposal, adding that any scheme would require careful consideration before moving forward.
Laos may also seek to establish a single-visa scheme with Cambodia, the source added.
The idea of single tourist visas was originally mooted in the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy meeting, a sub-regional forum which also covers Myanmar and Vietnam in 2003. But the plan for a single visa to enter all five countries is a long way off.
Other issues to be discussed at the Chiang Mai summit between Thailand and Laos will include how to improve transport links over the Mekong River, how to settle disputes over border areas and how to tackle human trafficking.