Government AffairsSpeakers at the ATRA Tourism Forum 2022 put forward solutions to accelerate travel recovery that involves harmonising travel regulations and leveraging regional ties with surrounding countries.

The time has come for Asia’s travel leaders to stand as a united front

The ASEAN Tourism Research Association broaches the topic of how the Asian tourism industry can move forward together as a whole.
The ASEAN Tourism Research Association broaches the topic of how the Asian tourism industry can move forward together as a whole. Photo Credit: Gettyimages/metamorworks

The 10th ASEAN Tourism Research Association (ATRA) Tourism Forum on Tuesday, 15 March saw a confluence of industry experts unanimously advocating for increased collaboration between governments in Asia in order to strengthen tourism in the region.

Speaking at the ‘Unlock the Borders & Reboot ASEAN Tourism’ ATF forum, Musa Hj Yusof, deputy director general of Tourism Malaysia holds the conviction that regional cooperation among Southeast Asian countries is fundamental in giving the travel comeback a much-needed boost.

“The Southeast Asian countries will need to work together at the regional level, primarily through ASEAN mechanisms. The first order of business is to facilitate cross-border movement of travellers,” Musa said. “Countries need to mutually recognise each other’s vaccination certificates, harmonise rules on travel procedures, and safeguard public health to manage the spread of the virus.”

The digital component that is increasingly being adopted by government officials, hospitality players and travel partners is an important element that can also be leveraged in collaborative efforts to spur the successful return of travel, according to Musa who believes that “as countries implement contactless technologies or mobile bookings and online payments for tourism-related transactions, they should also cooperate regionally on cross-border data flow for information related to vaccine passports or digital health certificates.”

He substantiated his point for the need of increased collaboration by referencing an October 2020 global survey conducted by UNWTO. Majority of tourism experts polled cited the lack of coordinated response among countries as one of the key factors impeding the progress of international travel in the Asia Pacific region.

Almost 600 million people in the Asia region have been shut off from their neighbouring countries for nearly two years. And even though more countries in Asia are gradually reopening to tourists now, each destination’s varying travel restrictions and safety protocols still serve as a deterrence to travellers.

Executive editor of Travel Impact Newswire, Imtiaz Muqbil, further pointed out that not only is the pandemic still affecting travel, the Russia-Ukraine war has additionally brought the level of global instability and insecurity to its highest since the end of World War II and it will seriously impact tourism since travellers prioritise safety and security.

“Crises are the rule, no longer the exception. We need to build a new world order with tourism playing a role driven by research and data. Our tourism models need to be more holistic and to take a balanced approach and focus more on the social and cultural side of Asia,” said Imtiaz.

Lessons learnt, Imtiaz surmised, is that intra-ASEAN travel and domestic travel should take precedence in today’s climate, as many national economies such as Thailand which once used to heavily rely on international travel has suffered a huge blow from the pandemic.

Alongside working together to harmonise regulations and focus on diverting travellers to travel the region as opposed to going out of it, there are many more opportunities to drive the travel revival following the pandemic. 

Luca Dotti, CEO and founder of HOMA Phuket has observed the rise of a new trend — migration tourism — where travellers relocate for short-term to long-term periods and work remotely from the location, adding that these digital nomads are already prevalent in Europe and the US.

“I haven’t seen a framework from ASEAN governments to tap into this [market] which can additionally serve to attract talents that are needed by the respective countries,” said Dotti. “But I do see Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia poised to be able to take advantage of this as they will be attractive for those wanting a more affordable lifestyle with all the amenities.”

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