Trade Shows and EventsThe region's tourism chiefs look to consolidate one another's strengths to work towards a common tourism future.

Let's bring tourists home to ASEAN, say tourism leaders

The ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2023 saw member countries coming together to discuss the future of tourism in the region.
The ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2023 saw member countries coming together to discuss the future of tourism in the region. Photo Credit: Anis Ramli

Rejuvenating tourism in the region was on the mind of every nation delegate at last week’s ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2023, which was widely seen as a platform for closer cooperation on recovery and promotion of the region's tourist destinations to the rest of the world.

Here are the key takeaways from the forum this year:

Sharpening focus on sustainable and community-based tourism

Coming out of the shadow of the pandemic, ASEAN member countries are rebooting their respective brands by promoting lesser-known destinations and marketing sustainable and community-based tourism. From Indonesia’s tourist villages to the Philippines’ tourism circuits, the message was about creating high-value experiences for visitors.

Maria Margarita Montemayor Nograles, COO of Tourism Promotions Board Philippines (TPB) said, “We want to do things differently but at the same time, how do we help our local community? We see increased interest in nature and culture and this has prompted us to open new circuits, allowing us to promote all our regions equitably and roll-out unique experiences.”

This was also in line with the ASEAN Framework on Sustainable Tourism Development which guides the collective efforts of ASEAN countries towards a more sustainable and inclusive tourism.

Investing in infrastructure

According to a Forbes report, five of the 10 members of ASEAN had been featured as the world's 50 most beautiful places. Yet connectivity remains a challenge for many nations.

“For Laos, infrastructural weaknesses are our immediate barriers,” said Sengsoda Vanthanouvong, deputy director general of tourism marketing department at Laos' Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. “If we want to capture the Chinese and Indonesia market, we need access to direct flights from China and Indonesia respectively to boost tourist arrivals.”

Eyeing quality tourists

The approach towards quality tourists goes hand-in-hand with sustainable and community-based tourism. Quality tourists are more interested in experiential tourism, seeking cultural events, nature activities, and seek out community initiatives.

Community over competition

Everyone is hoping to get a slice of the big-spending Chinese tourist pie now that Beijing has allowed its residents to freely travel out of China.

While acknowledging that Malaysia, like other ASEAN countries, is keen to attract more Chinese tourist dollars to the country, Shanina Samsuri, senior assistant director, international promotion division Southeast Asia, Tourism Malaysia said there also needs to be an approach of working together for the greater good.

“We all have our own campaign to revive our respective tourism industry and we all are looking at the same markets. I think what’s important for many countries now is – let’s focus on bringing tourists back to this region.”

A platform of hope and recovery

The TRAVEX event at ATF 2023 was a showcase of optimism and hope in the region's tourism industry. Despite being a smaller event, the players in the ASEAN region are looking to the future and rebuilding their economy.

The "Visit Cambodia 2023" campaign and Malaysia's commitment to revitalising tourism are examples of countries' efforts to welcome back international tourists.

According to UNWTO data, tourist arrivals in ASEAN and the Pacific islands more than doubled in the first seven months of 2022 compared to 2021. Thailand recorded 11.15 million foreign arrivals in 2022 and was promoting lesser-known destinations at their booth.

TRAVEX 2023 was an opportunity for exhibitors to reconnect with both sellers and buyers after the pandemic. Overall, the ASEAN region is committed to revitalising the tourism industry and reopening its doors to international tourists.

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