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The national carriers of Thailand and Myanmar have been urged to join an “air flight pass” programme to help promote the Kingdom, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos as one travel destination in the Mekong region to strengthen the fledgling “Five Countries One Destination” objective.

“Air flight passes” are special fare programmes that allow a traveller to fly to multiple cities in a designated region at discounted rates, creating his or her own personalised itinerary.

Vietnam Airlines marketing executive Nguyen Quy Phuong said his country’s national carrier had been able to get the airlines of Laos and Cambodia to join the programme to make connecting “heritages cities” – cities that have World Heritage sites – in the three countries of the-Mekong region easier and more affordable.

Nguyen said at the International Trade Expo seminar in Ho Chi Minh City last week that Vietnam had not yet succeeded in getting Thai and Myanmar carriers to join the programme, but Vietnam Airlines was pursuing talks to smooth out any hurdles to increase the number of people visiting the Mekong region under the “Five Countries One Destination” objective.

One of the most challenging tasks ahead for the five countries is to cooperate in allowing tourists to get just one visa for travelling through the five countries.

Chattan Kunjara na Ayudhya, executive director at the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s advertising and public relations department, explained that achieving cooperation among Asean countries to develop tourism was naturally more difficult than cooperation in other areas because each country views tourism cooperation differently, while every country’s customs and immigration policies are different, posing hurdles for travellers.

“It is more difficult [cooperating] as one big group but it is easier to achieve bilateral cooperation. As for the flight pass programme, Thai Air ways may not find it financially worthwhile because of the costs involved,” he acknowledged. “Besides, the travelling distance between each country is different.”

And it’s not only connectivity; travellers also face legal and immigration challenges, and time is another important factor.

If tourists have, for instance, a total of just two weeks’ annual leave, they may not be able to choose a tour longer than that.

A traveller would need at least 20 days to tour four or five countries in the Mekong region adequately in one trip.

Asian Trails Vietnam managing director BuiViet Thuy Tien said that over the past few years her company had presented two travel itineraries featuring a 20-day overland trip across Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam that explores not onlyWorld Heritage sitqp in these four countries but also “hidden gems”.

It is possible to add a pre-tour to Bagan in Myanmar or a post-tour to Hoi An inVietnam using domestic flights or an extension to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, she said.

Tien said all this had been made possible because crossing borders has become easier than before while road conditions have also improved, shortening driving times. Besides, more quality accommodation can be found near border towns and increases in regional and domestic flights have made easier to customise such tour programmes.

Travellers who have just two weeks of vacation time in a year can visit only three countries at the most. They can choose, for example, a 12-day overland journey from Siem Reap to central Vietnam, touring ancient civilisations like the French Indochina treasure of Annam and Cambodia’s Angkor via the “hidden road” of the central highlands, while they can also continue on to Hanoi and fly to Luang Prabang.

However, to attract upmarket travellers, roads, accom-1 modation facilities in sortie countries, and visa procedures need improvement. So far only adventurers dare to take an overland journey.

It is still expensive for free independent travellers, Tien said, adding that there was a lack of an integrated marketing plan by the four countries on shared values, heritages and culture.

Source : Traveller (From Sept 21 to Sept 27 )Vol 3, No 15