ASEAN tourism expected to grow dramatically
At the World Economic Forum (WEF), which took place in Myanmar in the first week of June, the various tourism ministers and tourism authorities from four of the ASEAN member states noted that they fully expected tourist numbers would increase by between 10 and 20 percent in the next few years.
At present, tourism accounts for about five percent of ASEAN’s gross domestic product and provides for around nine million jobs.
Ministers and senior tourist authority officials from the host nation, Myanmar, as well as Cambodia, Indonesia, and the Philippines have tentatively agreed to collaborate on a range of tourist-related measures designed to boost inbound tourism in their respective countries.
Key among their plans is improve the use of electronic systems (for example, making e-Visas even easier to obtain) and try to reduce or even eliminate the usually bureaucratic hurdles that can lead to many travellers avoiding some areas and countries due to these difficulties.
The tourism minister of Myanmar, Htay Aung, said he intended, “to use tourism to help Myanmar people get a better life.”
Not unsurprisingly as it tries to build its economic base after years as a pariah state, Myanmar has expressed support for regional and intra-regional trade and has expressed a willingness to try and remove visa requirements for ASEAN nationals as early as 2014.
Thailand, of course, leads the way in the ASEAN region in terms of tourist arrivals and was not a party to the agreement. Nonetheless, if the other four, two of which are direct neighbours with Thailand, are able to greatly improve their tourist numbers, it could provide the kind of template from which Thailand can also learn.
The Indonesian tourism minister was quoted as saying, “We are trying to promote ASEAN as a destination by including two to three stops in one package.”
The minister, Mari Elka Pangestu, suggested if ASEAN members adopted policies designed to achieve standardisation and greater integration then the tourism sector could easily grow by anything up to 20 percent within a few years.
The Philippines tourism secretary said it was important that locals reaped the benefits of increased tourism. “We must begin with [a] fundamental strategy. Successful tourism programmes begin by deciding whom to include and what community has the highest propensity to succeed, and then you move forward.”
Of course, all the various ministers and authorities agreed it was imperative that the region’s natural beauty and its various historical and cultural sites were not overwhelmed by mass tourism. Unsustainable development should be avoided, but of course this is easier said than done, with some areas of Thailand a prime example of what can happen when the profit imperative overrides national regulations.