ATF: progress towards becoming simply ASEAN

ATF 2016 at the SMX Manila

ATF 2016 at the SMX Manila

At the recent ASEAN Tourism Forum ministers announce significant inroads in promoting the region as a single tourist destination. Reports Mark Bibby Jackson.

With the inauguration of the ASEAN Economic Community now safely tucked up in bed, the nascent economic bloc faces fresh challenges. Near the top of that list – along with security, education and skills – is the creation of a single market strategy for the region’s key tourism sector.

“We want to promote ASEAN as a single destination,” Lawrence Leong, Singapore Tourism Board’s assistant chief executive, said at the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF), held in Manila from January 20 to 22. “We see a lot more packages promoting ASEAN as a region. We aim for longer stays for these travellers, to have them spend at least six to seven days in the whole region.”

Benito C Bengzon, undersecretary for the Philippines’ Department of Tourism, gave an update on progress towards achieving an ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan (ATSP) on the final day of ATF16.

Ticking off 79 out of 87 measures from the previous (2011-15) plan, the minister stated that outstanding issues included heritage tourism and community-based tourism, regional development of health and wellness tourism, the impact of tourism on climate change, and developing and implementing a training tool box for tour operators.

“It will take time to see results because different countries are at different stages of development in terms of service quality, capacity building and infrastructure development,” Tint Thwin, director general of Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, said.

Thwin believes that the development of human resource skills is the number one priority for the tourism sector. “Training is important to ensure that all member countries are on the same level playing field,” he said.

One obstacle that seems no nearer to being cleared is the creation of a single ASEAN visa, despite the continual inquisition from assembled media. “The lack of a single visa is an obstacle,” admitted Thwin.

Ministers also discussed how ASEAN should celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2017 – outlining a major campaign provisionally dubbed ASEAN@50 by which it is hoped visitor arrivals and tourism receipts will rise by 15 percent from 2014 to 2017.

The campaign is scheduled for a pre-launch at the Thai pavilion during Berlin’s ITB this March, as well as being promoted at major tradeshows, including the China International Travel Mart in Shanghai before its official launch at the ATF in Singapore next January.

The campaign will highlight ASEAN’s 50 most unforgettable travel experiences and ASEAN’s 50 best festivals and celebrations, with each country spotlighting five domestic attractions.

One concrete measure announced at ATF16 was the inaugural cruise southeast Asia brand, with the tagline ‘Feel the warmth’.

“The launch of the cruise Southeast Asia brand reiterates our region’s commitment to band together and harness the growth potential of the cruise industry,” Lionel Yeo, chief executive, Singapore Tourism Board, said.