Focus on food and sustainability to grow Asean tourism in 2018


ASEAN smashed estimations of 2017 international tourism, can they do the same for 2018? Source: Geoff Greenwood / Unsplash

THE TOURISM industry in Southeast Asia is shaping up to revolve around food, focus on sustainable travel and ultimately blast all international tourism intake predictions out of the water.

As the 37th Asean Tourism Forum (ATF) draws to a close in Chang Mai, Asean looks to be heading into a bright and tasty tourism future.

The preliminary travel and tourism data collated from 2017 and shared at the meeting with Asean tourism ministers reveals a whopping 125 million international tourists visited the entire region in 2017. If this data is confirmed, Asean can happily say tourism grew by 8.4 percent from 2016.

The estimated profit generated by Asean travel and tourism sits at US$93 billion, which is US$10 billion higher than the original 2017 target. These figures have certainly set a precedent for the direction of the region’s 2018 tourism industry.

ATF chairman, who is also Thailand’s tourism minister, Weerasak Kowsurat spoke at the conference about his delight for the positive and progressive data, but insists Asean nations should not to take a back seat as the work is far from done.

As we celebrate this most recent success, we still recognize the scale of the task before us and the urgency in enhancing our competitiveness to achieve sustainable development,” Weerasak said.

“We must, therefore, ensure that we unite to create the synergy which brings about inclusive growth and that none of us is left behind.”

What’s on Asean’s tourism cards for 2018?

As part of the plan to carry on expanding the Asean tourism sector, ministers from the association have decided to appoint a permanent secretariat in Jakarta to bring up tourism standards across all member states.

Another area of focus mentioned at the forum is the growing demand for cruise travel. Over the last 20 years, the worldwide demand for cruise tourism has grown significantly, according to the World Tourism Organization.

Asean has agreed to focus more on developing efficient processes, responsibility in business practices, capacity building, destination management and effects on local communities and the environment in order to responsibly grow the cruise industry in Southeast Asia.

Following on from the consensus reached in 2017, to ease border restrictions, Asean also wants to allow travelers from member states to use domestic driver’s licenses in order to boost tourism, as research has revealed that looser border restrictions are more enticing to travelers using routes up from Singapore and down from India and China.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a Southeast Asian conference if the topic of food wasn’t bought up. The Joint Declaration on Gastronomy and Tourism was also adopted by Asean at the Gastronomy Conference.

The declaration aims to act as a knowledge sharing platform between member states in order to promote competitive destination experiences. With these new declarations and key-focuses in place, Asean hopes to exceed tourism figures from 2017 and surpass estimations for 2018.

The ATF will continue to run every year and promote tourism to Asean as though it is one singular nation. Next year, forum attendees will be making their way to Halong Bay in Vietnam.