It’s time to visit ASEAN again
ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) tourism is looking up and the picture is a very rosy one. The 10 member nations of ASEAN are Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. At the recent ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF)2017 in Singapore all the ASEAN member states’ national tourist organisations were bullish about the prospects of tourism in their respective countries. Visitor arrivals in ASEAN had been rising steadily from 62 million to 109 million in 2015. With the launch of the ASEAN@50 campaign, the target to capture more international visitors is 121 million or a 10 per cent increase.
The tourism industry is a key sector for all the countries. For example in 2015, more than 4.6 million visitors spent US$725 million in Laos. In contrast, there were nearly 5.4 million visitors to Philippines and they contributed US$4.46 billion or 8.2 per cent of GDP. Clearly there is still room to grow for Laos, this landlocked country in the heart of the Indochina peninsular.
For ASEAN to reach its target, many factors must be in place. Already some of these developments had been happening or are being stepped up.
Firstly accessibility by air, sea and land must be expanded. Air connectivity is the biggest contributor. More and more airlines are flying to Asean, thanks in part to the proliferation of budget carriers. They have made secondary cities more accessible to a wider spectrum of travellers ranging from students to retirees.
Increasing importance of China
The Chinese market has increasingly become more important to all the ASEAN countries. Looking at available statistics, they now rank among the top three visitors by nationalities in practically all the ASEAN nations. Little wonder, more and more Chinese carriers are flying direct from second and third tier Chinese cities to ASEAN and they have been welcomed with open arms. On the reverse side, Asean carriers are doing likewise, like Cambodia Angkor Air which now flies to three cities in China.
The cruise industry is growing in Asia and many cruise companies are scrambling to meet this demand. Last year 60 ocean ships sail through Asia carrying over 2 million passengers. The top destination is Japan with 1526 port calls, followed by China (850), Korea (745), Vietnam (466), Malaysia (422) and Singapore (391). One cruise operator has responded quickly. Costa Cruises has started its inaugural run from Laem Chambang (one hour by car from Bangkok), using Thailand as its home port this month. The 2394 passenger cruise ship sails to Sihanoukville (Cambodia) , Phu Quoc (Vietnam) and Koh Samui (Thailand).
Other ASEAN countries have to catch up
There is still much to be done for the rest of the Asean countries. One key initiative needed to achieve the desired numbers is investment in infrastructure, a point raised by ASEAN tourism ministers at ATF . Better cruise ports to handle the influx of visitors and to accommodate bigger ships. Indonesia has indicated that they are expanding five ports.
Day trippers contribute substantially to visitor arrival numbers among ASEAN neighbours also linked by highways. Thus investment in the expansion of roads and visa entry facilitation at border check points will boost tourist statistics yearly.
When tourists visit a country they tend to flock to the capital cities and the usual famous landmarks. Myanmar is not just Yangon. Mandalay and Bagan, go and explore our natural wonders exhorted Daw Khin Than Win of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. In the southern division of the country is Myeik Archipealgo, comprising 800 islands and the Lampi National Marine Park. The park is teeming with coral reefs, seaweed and seagrass beds and home to whale species, dugongs and turtles. Similarly for Laos, every tourist will make a beeline for Luang Prabang the UNESCO designated town.
Do not overlook Xiangkhouang province where you can marvel at the hundreds of giant stone jars on The Plain of Jars and also drop in at an eco-friendly co-operative-run mulberry farm which purportedly produces the best Laotian silk. Don’t forget to visit Pakse in Champakse province where the Tad Fane Waterfall is located, gushed Madam Sengsoda Vanthanouvong Deputy Director General of Tourism Marketing Department, Laos at a recent presentation to the media and trade.
Years ago, I visited Siem Reap to see the Angkor Wat complex which is the largest religious monument in the world. It was my first and only visit to Cambodia todate. You have to explore Phnom Penh, the capital; Battambang, the second largest city and noted for its French colonial architectural buildings and Sihanoukville, the beach town cajoled Om Pharin of Charming Cambodia Tours.
Pack your bags
ASEAN has kicked off with the VISIT ASEAN250 Golden Celebration 2017 with a message that the region is a single and united, yet diverse tourist destination. Airlines, cruise operators, credit card and private sector companies have joined in to offer promotions. ASEAN beckons. It’s time to pack our bags and visit ASEAN again this year.
About Yap Boh Tiong
Yap Boh Tiong is the Chairman of The Mileage Group which has 15 offices in 9 countries in Asia.
He has travelled for work and holidays to all 10 member nations of ASEAN.