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ASEAN: A Recap of the 2014 Meeting of the Minds in Southeast Asia

February 7, 2014 at 11:48 AM | by | ()

Last month, the 33rd annual ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) was held in Kuching, Malaysia (Borneo) and drew delegates from around the world. The ten member countries - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam - were all represented by their ministries of tourism. The conference takes place each year but its location rotates through the member countries. This year’s host, Malaysia, opened the gathering by highlighting ATF’s vision of “Ten Countries, One Destination.”

“I hope that this forum will chart the strategic directions to expedite the growth and development of tourism in ASEAN and enhance our collaboration towards projecting ASEAN as an attractive and multi-faceted single destination,” said Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak.

In 2013, 90.2 million tourists visited the member nations combined. To put that in perspective, New York City welcomes about 50 million each year, but that is not written to discredit or discount, only for perspective. ASEAN saw a 12% increase in visitors compared to 2012, and according to Prime Minister Najib Razak, the total number could be 187 million in 2030. International tourism also increased 9.9% in 2013.

“The theme ‘ASEAN – Advancing Tourism Together’ chosen for this 33rd ATF is certainly appropriate and timely,” said Prime Minister Najib Razak. “It reinforces the commitment of ASEAN member states to work hand in hand to achieve the vision and goals of the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan 2011 – 2015.”

As its name suggests, the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan (ATSP) laid out in 2011 what it wanted the organization to accomplish by 2015. Among the main goals were to 1) Better understand its target tourist markets; 2) increase the number of visitors to the region with authentic and diverse products 3) enhance connectivity between member nations and create a safe and secure environment 4) increase the quality of services, while at the same time ensuring an increased quality of life and opportunities for residents through responsible and sustainable tourism.

Here are a few quick hits about the progress being made by ASEAN as they continue to follow and implement the ATSP :

Malaysia announced its plans to welcome 36 million tourists in 2020, a 50% increase from the 24 million it drew in 2009.

• ASEAN continues to deregulate its airways, which has increased route capacities, passenger numbers, airline revenue and job numbers. In 2011, flights between capital cities were liberalized, and the goal for full deregulation has been set for 2015.

• The Malaysia-to-Singapore High Speed Rail is on track to be completed in 2020.

• The upcoming addition of another friendship bridge means there will be a total of five crossing points between Thailand and Laos where travelers can get visas on arrival.

• The opening of four land borders between Thailand and Myanmar has inspired cross-country tours from operators on both sides.

Indonesia is leading the development of the Mutual Recognition Agreement on Tourism Professionals, which “aims to facilitate the mobility of tourism professionals within ASEAN based on competence-based tourism qualifications or certifications.” This could help ASEAN attract bigger companies that may invest in a handful of countries as opposed to one.

• A single-entry visa to the ten member countries is still being discussed as a possibility down the line.

Brunei is looking to promote “a greener Brunei,” focusing on tourists that are interested in nature and exploring its rainforests.

• Malaysia’s tourism board confirmed that Kuala Lumpur’s new international terminal, KLIA2, will open at the beginning of May.

Cambodia is working to diversify tourism to other parts of the country in an effort ease pressure off Angkor Wat, Marketing and Promotion Officer Bun Bonina said. It is also mulling over the idea of putting a cap on daily visitors to Angkor Wat if necessary.

• Tourism in Myanmar is growing at an incredible rate after opening its doors a few years ago. Seven million tourists are expected in 2020, up from only 300,000 in 2010.

Vietnam’s tourism revenue was 9.5 billion in 2013, up from 7.7 billion in 2012 and 3 billion in 2009.

Many of the questions posed at media briefings surrounded whether or not the countries were ready for the increases in tourism when it came to their infrastructure. The resounding answer was to take it as it comes, and work with both domestic and international investors with interest in facilitating growth and creating responsible tourism.

Next year’s ATF will be hosted by Myanmar, with the Philippines confirmed as the location for 2016. The theme and agenda have yet to be announced.

[Photo: Will McGough]

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