PHNOM PENH (eTN) – ASEAN Travel Forum 2011 hosted in Phnom Penh for the second time reconfirms that Southeast Asia is flying high again. Total number of arrivals to the geopolitical entity formed by ten countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) topped last year’s 65 million arrivals, up 12% over 2009. ASEAN Travex, the regional trade show hosted in conjunction with the forum, had over 1,660 delegates registered, including 440 international buyers.
The growth is impressive, as large parts of the world are still into recession. ASEAN tourist movements were stimulated by a booming Chinese economy; high growth in markets such as India, South Korea, and Taiwan; as well as a strong economic recovery in most ASEAN countries. Australian travelers are also predicted to grow sharply in 2011 to the region as more flights are due to take off during the first quarter of this year with new low fares available to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.
Another positive sign is the emergence of new intra-ASEAN markets. “We predict a sharp rise in total travelers from Indonesia, the Philippines, and even Vietnam as these countries have an increasing number of middle-class travelers with purchasing power,” analyzed Suraphon Svetasreni, Governor of TAT, the Tourism Authority of Thailand. ASEAN is now expected to reach the 100 million travelers mark by the end of the decade.
At the Travel show, TRAVEX, the mood was also very positive. “We see more interest for most markets except maybe from Western Europe or the USA where the demand remains soft,” explained Maarten Groeneveld, Managing Director, Diethelm Travel Thailand. Optimism is also sweeping inbound tour operators in Thailand. “Incentive and events are back to Thailand. This is a sign of confidence return[ing] into the destination,” highlighted Alexis Viols, Manager, Inbound Asian Trails Thailand. With a possible “normalization” of the political situation in Myanmar following recent elections, the country could become a big hit in 2011. Myanmar’s government expects that total arrivals to the country could grow from almost 800,000 tourists to one million this year.
Little information filtered from the 14th meeting of ASEAN tourism ministers as the official press conference schedule was changed at the last moment, without informing the journalists present. However, according to some sources, ASEAN Ministers approved ASEAN’s five-year tourism strategic plan for 2011-2015, with China, Japan, and South Korean pledging their financial endorsement to implement the strategic plan. The plan especially emphasizes the promotion of intra-ASEAN tourism, the development of tourism products, and the improvement of the quality of service. Of crucial importance will be the management of human resources with many young ASEAN citizens lacking skills in languages or in understanding the needs of travelers with a different cultural background.
The next ATF will take place from January 9-15, 2012 in Manado, in the Province of North Sulawesi in Indonesia. To people complaining that the destination is not easily accessible for most travelers – air connections for international travelers are only possible in Jakarta and Singapore – Sapta Nirwandar, Tourism Marketing Director General at Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism, replied: “It will then push Manado and North Sulawesi province to reach quickly to the challenge and find a solution. I am absolutely optimistic about their capacity to find solutions!”