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March 12, 2008

Promoting Asean as a single destination

During the annual Asean Tourism Forum (ATF), hosted on a rotational basis among the 10 member countries by Thailand on 17-25 January 2008, the prominent Asean Tourism Ministers met at the re-named Sofitel Centara Grand Hotel in Bangkok on January 21 by showing a strong sense of unity.

Under the chairmanship of H.E. Dr. Suvit Yodmani, outgoing Minister of Tourism and Sports in Thailand, the Asean Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the overall vision of an “Asean Economic Community”. As preliminary reports demonstrate that in 2007 Asean attracted some 60 million visitors, reflecting an increase of 8% growth compared to 2006, all the ministers emphasised the need to accelerate the progress of the common “Roadmap for Tourism Integration” and further strengthen Asean as a single destination.

Proud achievements are Asean tourism joint promotion, tourism manpower arrangement, vision of Asean open skies policy by 2015, co-operation in crisis management, quality assurance, as well as an important co-operation agreement with the UN World Tourism Organisation, which was signed by Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, the new Secretary General of Asean.

Furthermore, it was proved that the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) scheme is still on the radar, when tourism ministers and senior officials from Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam had met to discuss the implementation of a new tourism development and marketing plan.

As the Mekong region is the fastest-growing tourism destination in the world today, the 6 Mekong countries ultimately aim to have a common GMS visa in the not-too-distant future. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Manila/Philippines has therefore provided USD 40 million in financing the support of the GMS projects and sponsoring the development of transport infrastructure that will open new opportunities for tourism development in the region.

On January 22, the 10 Asean Tourism Ministers met with their counterparts of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. They welcomed the decision of Asean Plus Three (APT) to fully support the implementation of the APT Co-operation Work Plan 2007-2017, including cultural and Eco-tourism, cruise tourism, and youth exchange. In another meeting, the Asean Tourism Ministers met with Madam Ambika Soni, Minister of Tourism and Culture in India, to develop co-operation on joint tourism promotion and marketing, especially in pilgrimage tourism and tourism investment.
Nevertheless, the media highlight of the Asean Tourism Ministers and Related Meetings was the presentation of the Asean Green Hotel Recognition Award 2008 to a list of 81 properties. The Asean “Green Hotel” has to be environmental-friendly and adopts special energy conservation measures. The standard should be recognised internationally, as it focuses on the principles of sustainable tourism by ways of improving the quality of tourism products to reduce global “greenhouse” gas emissions and address the phenomenon of imminent climate change. By example, such green hotels are (one by each country):

Orchid Garden, Brunei - Nikko Bali Resort & Spa, Bali/ Indonesia - Sokha Beach Resort, Sihanoukville/Cambodia - Champasak Palace, Pakse/Lao PDR - Shangri-La, Kuala Lumpur/Malaysia - The Governor’s Residence, Yangon/Myanmar - Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa, Cebu/Philippines - Shangri-La, Singapore - Banyan Tree, Bangkok/Thailand - Caravelle, Ho Chi Minh City/Vietnam

Under the theme “Synergy of Asean: Towards Dynamic Unity in Diversity” - the show of ATF2008 was officially opened on the evening of January 22 at the Royal Jubilee Ballroom at IMPACT in Muang Thong Thani by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and Thai Tourism Industry.

Some 627 confirmed international buyers, media, and sellers from 446 organisations were welcomed for a gala dinner, Asean cultural performances and to attend the Travel Exchange (TRAVEX), which is the most important event in Southeast Asia for tourism-related service suppliers to meet with travel producers from all over the world.

During the half-day Asean Tourism Conference 2008 on January 23 at IMPACT Challenger, TAT Governor Mrs. Phornsiri Manoharn thanked Mr. Oscar P. Palabyab, Undersecretary of the Department of Tourism in the Philippines, to deliver the keynote speech on Asean tourism trends.  There followed a panel discussion, substantiating the theme of “Dynamics of Asean Tourism”.

Dynamics were also produced for the Asean National Tourism Organisations (NTO) media briefings.  Starting with Singapore, Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, and Malaysia on January 23, Viet Nam, Brunei, Indonesia and Lao PDR had their presentations on January 24. Surprisingly, Cambodia’s NTO cancelled their much expected press conference on a last notice.

Singapore’s Head of NTO Mr. Lim Neo Chian, Chief Executive of the Singapore Tourism Board, tabled the fact that the small island republic has now attracted around 10.3 million tourists in 2007.  

For 2008, there will be the establishment of Changi Airport Terminal III and opening of the Peranakan Museum in April. Thus, Singapore will be looking ahead to 17 million visitors in 2010 and prepares to be a sports hub in 2011.

Myanmar’s U Htay Aung, Director General of the Directorate, Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, introduced his country as an Eco-tourism paradise between snow-capped mountains and tropical islands. Because of the situation in September 2007, when monks took protest to the street, the arrival figures hovered only around 716.434.

But all in all, there is an increasing growth rate of 25%, which was generated by 6 border crossings with China and 4 ones with Thailand, namely Ranong, Three Pagodas Pass, Mae Sot and Mae Sai. In spite of the “No Travel to Burma” campaign in Europe, Myanmar’s situation is already back to normal. Anyway, the projected ASEAN open sky policy will benefit Myanmar the most.

Having nearly achieved the target of 14.5 million visitor arrivals in 2007, TAT is now projecting some 15.7 million in 2008. TAT Governor Mrs. Phornsiri Manoharn is firm on reinforcing the “Amazing Thailand” slogan for the near future to come.  Regarding the quality of tourism products, she singled out some new boutique properties in the North, such as the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Sofitel Riverside Chiang Mai and the RarinJinda Wellness Spa Resort. In the South, there are properties on Phuket, Samui and Koh Lanta for more high spending, long staying visitors. On the other side, low-cost airlines will continue to make an impact as they boost the number of flights to many under-utilised airports within the Asean region.

The Philippines – with their slogan of 7.107 islands beyond the usual – had for the first time ever breached 3 million arrivals and 40% growth in tourist spending for 2007. The Department of Tourism’s ultimate goal is to attract not only more tourists, but also higher value visitors, who stay longer and spend more by generating more opportunities for the country.

While Philippines’ position in core markets such as China and Korea was successfully solidified, the efforts for building up newer areas such as India and strategic European countries bear first fruits. Arrivals from Russia grew by 128% and Russia is an emerging market indeed. Philippines Airlines is successfully restructuring and Manila will be the host of the Asean Investment Forum in July 2008.

Malaysia sells itself as an all year round destination. The “Visit Malaysia Year” campaign has already drawn some 20.8 million tourists to the country, which celebrated 50 years of nationhood in 2007. This success has spurred the Malaysian Government to extend the campaign until August 2008.

Among the states that will organise an additional “Visit State Year 2008” are Terengganu, Kelantan and Kedah. With Director General Dato’ Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, Tourism Malaysia looks optimistic into a rosy future.
For Vietnam – with the Hidden Charm slogan – the year 2007 has actually brought in slightly more than 4 million arrivals, mainly from Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City and Ha Long Bay are the main tourist attractions. For 2008, there is the “Mekong Delta Year” promoted, especially in Can Tho. The Hue Festival will be organised on June 3-11, while this year’s Miss Universe contest will be in Nha Trang during July/August.

Another highlight of the year will be the International Travel Expo (ITE) at Phu Tho Exhibition Centre in Ho Chi Minh City during 11-13 September 2008. More importantly, the new created Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in Vietnam will actively prepare ATF2009 in Ha Noi, which will be held during January 5-12 in the coming year. Vietnam Airlines will be modernised accordingly, as Vietnam projects the target of reaching 6 million tourists by 2010.     

Brunei, which will organise ATF2010, is marketing itself as the green heart of Borneo. This is no wonder because of the country’s forest cover of 78%. Some 178.000 visitors – around 20.000 from Europe – were counted in 2007 with more to come in the future. Eco-tourism is the name of the game – the same as in nearby Indonesia.
Indonesia’s press conference highlighted the role of Garuda Indonesia in the promotion of the country’s tourism industry and the airline’s support for the Government’s “Visit Indonesia Year 2008” program. Following the Bali bombings and in the aftermath of the Yogya earthquake, Indonesia’s tourism industry went through difficult times and is now in the midst of a recovery phase.

As part of the “Visit Indonesia Year 2008” program, Minster of Culture and Tourism, H.E. Jero Wacik, has issued a list of around 100 tourism events around the country in an effort to attract 7 million visitors to Indonesia. Garuda Indonesia alone plans to bring in 56 additional air-planes and currently serves 22 domestic cities plus 17 international destinations as far as Japan, Australia and the Middle East. A revived service to Amsterdam/Holland is due in the near future, if conditions allow.     

Last not least, Mr. Sounh Manivong, Director General of Tourism Planning and Co-operation Department of the Lao National Tourism Administration (LNTA), noted a record tourism growth rate of 37% with some 1.3 million tourists, counted from January to November 2007.  Eco-tourism activities centre in Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Pakse. Road projects connect to Thailand and Vietnam.

On the entertainment side of ATF2008, there were two media luncheons hosted by Thai International Airways (THAI) and Dusit International respectively. Viet Nam invited for a dinner night with a brilliant traditional song, dance and music theatre on January 23 at the Plaza Athenee Hotel, followed by a TTG Asia Media late night function at the new Pullman Bangkok King Power Hotel.

Finally, Visit Malaysia invited for a gala dinner on January 24 in the Royal Jubilee Ballroom at the IMPACT side, where the Honarable Datuk Seri Tenku Adnan Tengku Mansor, Minister of Tourism in Malaysia, presided over “One Golden Celebration” – a cultural showcase of the multinational country.

The following night function happened at the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit, hosted by Singapore’s Travel Weekly. Thus, ATF2008 phased out on a high note, while there was no official closing ceremony for the show on January 25. Fair enough that some pre- and post tours were offered complimentary, such as a cruise on the Menam Chao Phraya River.               

By Reinhard Hohler, Chiang Mai

Reinhard Hohler
GMS Media Travel Consultant
TTR Weekly North Thailand News Bureau
85 Suthep Road Soi 5, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Tel./Fax 0066-53-276020, Mobile: 08-91210268

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