A major hurdle in unleashing the tourism potential of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) bloc is lack of an integrated transport and people-to-people connectivity.
The President of the SAARC Chamber for Commerce and Industry (SAARC CCI) president, Suraj Vaidya raised the issue saying the region’s poor connectivity, either by road or air, is a bottleneck to flow of intra-regional tourists across the region and also restricts the movement of international tourists visiting the region.
Lack of transport routes and strict visa rule are other reasons limiting tourism in the SAARC region, according to the SAARC CCI president.
The president added that lack of integrated connectivity is not only restraining the economic integration of the South Asian region but also restricting the people of the region from revelling in socio-cultural festivities together.
“With regard to Bhutan, the country needs to develop new products. There is the issue of unemployment in the country and the government needs to look into how to employ highly educated youths in productive areas,” he said.
He feels that SAARC can help by bringing new investments into Bhutan in the hospitality, education, technology and agriculture sectors “in which the country has tremendous advantages”.
“Bhutan has advantages in many ways and the biggest advantage is in the area of energy among the region. Through the energy surplus if Bhutan can bring up industries which uses energy as the main cost, it would be a win-win situation for investors.”
These were among some of the fundamental issues the stakeholders and representatives discussed during the three-day SAARC CCI executive meeting held in the Capital from 23-25 July including means to improve the movement of people and measures to help them appreciate the heritage and culture of each country.
“It is only through travel that we can have more confidence and trust in each other,” said the SAARC CCI President adding that they can improve air services in the SAARC countries’ capitals.
Meanwhile, the Spokesperson of Tourism Council of Bhutan, Damcho Rinzin, said that lack of a one-for-all master visa, not providing e-visa and tedious visa processes limit tourism connectivity in the region.
“The way forward will be to form an informal working committee to take up the proposals and discussion forward,” he said.
Regional ministers will convene in December where the SAARC CCI will provide recommendations to all the governments to make tourism a priority in creating employment, encourage youth innovation in tourism and more investment in the sector.
Costs of trading within South Asia remain high at 114% of the value of goods being exported, making trading with neighboring nations more expensive or less competitive, compared to trading with distant partners. This discourages the formation of regional value chains despite the geographic contiguity. Poorly developed land transportation infrastructure is a key reason behind high trade costs, which is further exacerbated by strict visa regimes and non-existence of air connectivity within the region.
According to the SAARC CCI president, in South Asia, politics unfortunately is more important than economic agenda.
“Political leaders must understand that unless economic issues like poverty are tackled, poverty will be never be eradicated and if we do not eradicate poverty, unwanted elements such as terrorism will always exist.”
During the workshop, the SAARC youth economic forum was also created. Further, a women’s summit will be organized every year to recognize women in the region and their achievements.
SAARC CCI has been striving to promote regional health, religious and business tourism in the SAARC region. The region comprises one third of the world population. The next executive committee meeting will be held in September at Colombo.
Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu