Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, recently hosted the 38th annual ASEAN Tourism Forum
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, is not only a global tourism hotspot, it’s also becoming one of Vietnam’s economic engines. This year (January 15-18) the 38th annual ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) theme, The Power of One, was celebrated in Vietnam at Ha Long Bay’s spaceship-like Quang Ninh Exhibition of Planning and Expo Center and at the FLC HALONG BAY GOLF CLUB & RESORT, two of Southeast Asia’s most impressive hotels, convention and exhibition centers. The forum made a lasting impression on its 1500 delegates who attended 100 official functions and sessions. They comprise of ministerial, NTO, official meeting delegates, as well as TRAVEX suppliers from across all 10 ASEAN member states, international buyers and media pools. ATF TRAVEX, renowned for being the largest and most diverse showcase of ASEAN suppliers, fused the intentions of ASEAN travel trade industry exhibitors from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, connecting with hosted buyers and media representatives from around the world.
ATF 2019 Media Updates
ATF 2019 attracted 1,500 delegates from 53 countries, including 850 exhibitors, 200 international buyers (including Australia, Azerbaijan, China PR, France, Germany, India, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, South Korea, Sweden, Thailand, Poland and Russia.), TRAVEX suppliers, and 140 international and local media. Press conferences led by tourism ministers from member countries created buzz about plans for a single or no-visa policy for the entire region, as this visa-free tourism strategy will help create an ideal single destination—Southeast Asia: Feel the Warmth. 400 delegates are being hosted to this year’s event.
VIETNAM’s Timeless Charm promotion helped inspire 15.5 million visitors in 2018, up 20% from 2017—visitors from Republic of Korea up 45% from 2017. Vietnam Airlines will have 100 aircraft by 2010. Vietnam remains one of the world’s 10 fastest growing travel markets, and doing so with a continued focus on security. Vietnam airlines is now employing Southeast Asia’s first A321neo’s. The popular yet hard-to-reach Northern Highlands of Vietnam are now more accessible thanks to a new road from Hanoi to Sapa that halves the travel time between Hanoi and Lao Cai to only 3.5 hours. Vietnam continues trying to simplify its visa policy, which had doubled in price.
THAILAND: The Amazing Thailand brand’s exotic culture of service is now embracing its Open to New Shades campaign that welcomes all. Thailand forecasts $60 billion in U.S. tourism spending in 2019. Along with being the region’s ASEAN highway interconnecting the region via marine, rail, air and road. Thailand continues setting the example for tourism in Southeast Asia with growing health/wellness sectors.
SINGAPORE: Film tourism—Crazy Rich Asians—continues to drive a new brand of marketing. China remains their top tourism market. The Singapore Grand Prix will continue being hosted until 2021. One of the country’s most ambitious projects is a hi-speed railway link to Kuala Lumpur, with an aim to eventually extend through Thailand to Kunming, China. Tourists are flocking to their new offerings, including the National Gallery, Pinacotheque de Paris Art Museum, and Chinatown Street Market.
The PHILIPPINES welcomed 6.6 million tourists in 2018 (up from 5 million tourists in 2016). I’ve enjoyed Philippine Airlines direct flight from New York (JFK) to Manila (via Vancouver). The Philippines’ 7,017 islands share some form of American-influenced musical, religious, and Hollywood traditions. The U.S. remains its second largest market, the first being South Korea—one out of four tourists here are Korean.
MYANMAR remains the land of (at least monthly) festivals. They are targeting 7 million tourist arrivals by 2020. It has identified tourism as one of its top-five priority sectors with an amazing growth rate. In 2015, ATF was held in Myanmar for the first time. The country is working to improve transit, road conditions, and flight options. I can testify that the online tourist e-visa (evisa.moip.gov.mm $50) and business visa on arrival ($40), both work.
MALAYSIA has direct airline connections to 80 destinations with Air Asia now being the top airline player in this region. Tourism partners created a ASEAN Adventure Travel Booklet for youth/backpacker market. A highlight of their more than 50 annual festivals is the Rainforest World Music Festival. The Malaysia Truly Asia campaign continues showcasing the best of its mixed native, Malay, Chinese, and Indian heritage.
LAOS experienced a 10-percent drop in tourist arrivals in 2018. In 2019, it aims to attract more than 5 million tourists to generate $10 million. The “Jewel of the Mekong” recertified its country’s commitment to improving the roads and transportation infrastructure, allowing tourists to move easily throughout the country without flying. Luang Prabang continues to be one of the main draws for western travelers, and Laos has successfully evolved places like Vang Vieng from backpacker hangouts to more upscale destinations.
INDONESIA: Despite occasional setbacks, international tourist arrivals show virtually uninterrupted growth: 2.5 million (1950), 2.78 million (1980), 5.28 million (1995), 16.2 million (2018). Cruising Indonesia’s huge archipelagos is becoming more popular, exposing the country’s beautiful coastline outside of Bali, which is largely the only destination most Americans visit. Indonesia’s presence on Borneo is often also overshadowed by Bali, making it perhaps one of the best kept secrets in Southeast Asia.
CAMBODIA’s vision for 2020 is increasing international arrivals to 7.5 million (2018 welcomed 6.5 million visitors). Discussion continues on building a new road to Angkor Wat. The dispute is that it would increase the number of day trips and cut down on overnight stays at Angkor Wat, which would weaken the economy and potentially degrade the ruins. The “Kingdom of Wonder” now partners with Thailand for a single visa option.
BRUNEI’s Adobe of Peace campaign has been a success. The last Malay Kingdom celebrates its options to play golf or polo, dive, or relax in a plush resort. While under 10,000 Americans visit Brunei each year, it is rich in rainforest and mountain terrain (especially in neighboring Borneo) that could be very attractive to adventure travelers.
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MORE ABOUT ATF
Since its inauguration in 1981, the annual ATF rotates alphabetically through its 10 member-countries with a total of 590 million people—Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The tourism fusion of Southeast Asia’s 10 countries and their amazingly varied cultures poses several challenges, one of which is its diversity. ASEAN members range from wealthy Singapore and Brunei to agrarian Laos and Cambodia. Politics also run the spectrum, from the democratic Philippines, which is largely Christian, Indonesia, which encompasses the world’s largest Muslim population—and, until recently, a difficult to access Myanmar.
In terms of tourism, Southeast Asia holds vast potential as one sustainable community. The idea of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts is not lost on this region. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is an organization comparable to the European Union with its enduring effort to achieve regional solidarity. This forum is ultra-focused on how its member countries can work together to market themselves as one destination.
ASEAN cohesion emphasizes partnerships rather than competition. A single market free-trade agreement is another goal of the association. Until December 2008, the 40-year-old organization had no written constitution. The new charter sets a 2020 goal for establishing economic integration via a 10-country free-trade zone and established commitments respecting human rights, democratic principles, and keeping the region free of nuclear weapons. Binding the 10 members to an enhanced legal framework, the regional charter sets out their shared aims and methods of working together.
Many media, delegates, buyers and sellers experienced FLC HALONG BAY GOLF CLUB & RESORT after flying into and out of Hanoi, where the SOFITEL LEGEND METROPOLE HANOI is a bucket-list experience. For more information and tourism statistics visit www.atfvietnam2019.com. ATF 2020 will be in Brunei.