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Monday, 12 March, 2018, 12 : 39 PM [IST]

Reimagining ASEAN’s tourism vision

Bhisham Mansukhani

The 2018 ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) saw its 10 member countries embrace the theme of sustainable tourism and present a collective vision of growth in tourism numbers, and a slew of campaigns and plans highlighted for the 2018 season. ATF 2018 hosts Thailand held the event at its second largest city’s exhibition and convention centre - Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Centre (CMECC).

Held annually and rotated among the 10 ASEAN countries, ATF brings together tourism heads of the member countries, media and the regional and international travel trade together to network and focus on the opportunities and challenges entailed in boosting tourism to the region. The conference featured meetings of the ASEAN Tourism Ministers and national tourism organisations, international buyer seller meets and extensive media briefings. Notably, a ministerial meeting with China was held for the first time

The series of extensive media briefings by ASEAN’s member countries was opened rather appropriately by the host nation, Thailand. Playing host for the sixth time in ATF’s 37 year history, Thailand interestingly chose Chiang Mai as venue for the first time in a bid to highlight the country’s second largest city and also reflect their tourism policy of promoting Tier II and III regions.

Tourism Authority of Thailand Deputy Governor for Marketing Communications Tanes Petsuwan began by hailing ASEAN countries as Thailand’s single largest visitor source market in Asia.

Thailand welcomed more than 9 million ASEAN visitors in 2017, with Malaysia being the largest market with total arrivals of 3.35 million arrivals followed by Lao PDR with 1.61 million (+16.18%) and Singapore with 1.02 million (+6.26%). Thailand crossed the 35 million visitor arrivals mark in 2017, with a potential revenue return of USD 53 billion (1.81 trillion Baht). Notably, Thailand welcomed 1.4 million Indians, making the country fifth largest source market for the South Asian country -- an 18% increase over 2016. Petsuwan revealed that in 2018, TAT has set a growth target of 8%. He also touched upon new communication campaign called “Open to the New Shades”. “Our latest communication campaign, Open to the New Shades, was launched with the objective of introducing tourists to new aspects of Thai tourism and hospitality. The campaign also reflects the distinct characteristic of Thai people who have been welcoming tourists from all over the world. Significantly, the campaign allows us to customise our offerings to engage diverse customer segments, especially the high end tourists as well as the wedding segment, which, with regard to the Indian market is booming,” added Petsuwan.

The Malaysia briefing was chaired by Datuk Seri Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, Director General, Tourism Malaysia who announced Malaysia’s grand Malaysia 2020 campaign. He was however remarkably candid about Malaysia’s mixed tourism performance for 2017 which saw the country witness growth from some key markets but also saw mainstay markets like India shrink. So while the ASEAN region witnessed record growth in 2017, Malaysia’s inbound segment shrunk by 2.5% .. Malaysia received 21.5 million tourists January to October 2017 as compared to 22 million in 2016. Conversely though, Malaysia’s tourism revenue grew by 1.6%, indicative of better yields per tourist -- USD 15.8 billion for 2017. Singapore remains Malaysia’s biggest market, above Indonesia and China. Taiyab said that Malaysia was targeting over 33.1 million tourists and revenue of RM 134 billion for 2018. Tourism Malaysia is poised to unveil notable attractions at the Desaru Coast, an integrated resort in June, featuring South-east Asia’s largest wave pool South-east Asia and ASEAN’s first water coaster. The 20th Century Fox World Malaysia theme park is also set to open this year. Taiyab added that with the Visit Malaysia Year 2020 campaign, the country aimed to attract more than 36 million tourists.

Philippines has set its sights on a target of 7.5 millions tourists, according to Philippines’ Tourism Promotions Board (TBP) deputy COO, marketing and promotions, Maricon Ebron. Philippines welcomed over 6.62 million tourist arrivals in 2017 (USD 6.17 billion revenue), an 11% from the previous year’s arrivals of 5.9 million, which is laudable in context of the security concerns that have been highlighted in the media. South Korea is Philippine’s largest market followed by China. Ebron outlined some of TBP’s key promotional activities in 2018, namely regional cross selling missions, travel trade and media fams, sports and adventure tourism, a diving festival and the increasingly popular ‘Bring Home a Friend’ campaign. This original TBP campaign taps over 10 million Filipinos living across the world, incentivising them to promote Philippines and invite people from their respective countries to visit the Philippines. Ebron added that some newer destinations like Banaue, Sagada, Legazpi and Sairgao will be actively promoted apart from the already popular islands of Cebu, Boracay and Palawan.

Indonesia’s tourism briefing saw its representative articulate its broad multi-prong strategy for boosting inbound figures. Not that 2017 itself wasn’t a bumper year for Indonesia. Tourist arrivals statistic from January to November 2017, the number of international visitors has reached 12.6 million – a 22% increase over 2016 which was striking, given that the 2016 growth figure was a mere 12%. China remains Indonesia’s largest market sending the country over 1.95 million tourists.

Under the “Wonderful Indonesia” branding campaign, the country has shortlisted ten key destinations for development and promotion including Wakatobi Island, Tanjung Lesung, Borobudur Temple Thousand Island, Lake Toba, Tanjung Kelayang and Labuan Bajo. There’s also significant road infrastructure development on the cards along with a boost for the homestay segment and enhanced regional air connectivity to make these destinations accessible. The most populous ASEAN country has also acknowledged the need to create a large force of well trained and certified tourism professionals in the range of 65000 across hotels and tourist attractions.

Myanmar has recently been in the news for the Rohingya crisis but according to its tourism representatives, the tourism segment hasn’t seen a major impact as the country received 1.1 million tourists – a 7% increase over 2016. One of the factors the growth has been attributed to is the visa exemption extended to some of the ASEAN countries, namely Thailand, Philippines and Singapore. Arrivals from Vietnam, for instance, have spiked by more than 75% as a direct result of the visa exemption. Increased air connectivity and more hotel rooms have also played a significant role in the increase in inbound tourism. With regard to the 2018 tourism strategy, Myanmar aims to focus on the tourism segment to create economic opportunities for locals, thereby encouraging them to create unique local experiences for tourists. The key attractions that will be highlighted in 2018 include the city of Mandalay, Bagan’s temples and the colonial sites of the capital city, Yangon.

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