Asean tourism forum celebrates many attractions of the region
Participants at the Asean Tourism Forum (ATF) in the Laotian capital last week would have got the impression that the 10 members of the bloc were making a big effort to tell the world that this region is one of the great tourism destinations.The event was held from January 17-24 under the theme "Asean Hand in Hand Conquering Our Future". It was a venue for talks both among Asean tourism ministers and with their counterparts from such places as China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and India.
Each country came out with various tourism products, from white-sand |beaches to man-made attractions to historical sites. Logos boasted their respective attributes - ''Timeless Charm" of Vietnam, "It's More Fun in the Philippines", Cambodia the ''Kingdom of Wonder", "Wonderful Indonesia", and of course Thailand, which "Always Amazes You".
Laos is a good example. The landlocked nation hosted the event by preparing it as perfectly as it could. Its efforts were spoiled somewhat by inconvenient venue facilities, accommodation problems, and inexperienced staff. But it seemed these troubles were ignored by the participants, as smiling local staff provided simple, friendly service that won their hearts.
Some argued, in fact, that such apparently unsophisticated flaws were actually an advantage for Laotian tourism, and that the country should keep its traditional identity and charm.
And this set the scene for the ATF: Laos reflects the uneven pace of Asean countries' development. Clearly, "Asean diversity" was a key message from the 16th ministerial talks at Vientiane.
The annual event was founded in 1981 as the biggest tourism platform in Asean. Although the road to open up to the world is still bumpy, progress has been made year by year. At this event, Asean state agreed to increase its financial contribution to US$300,000, up from $200,000 on joint marketing activities.
Asean will collect and include 130 tourism products from the region in a guidebook. It will also look for ways to connect tourism sites in different countries.
This year's event attracted 442 buyers from across the world, including 37 from Thailand, looking to update themselves on tourism products.
"Overall, the event is going well because Laos now has more experience organising big events," said Sansern Ngaorungsi, deputy governor for international marketing for Asia and the South Pacific of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, who also chaired a marketing committee at the event.
TAT governor Suraphon Svetasreni was pleased with the results, handling 20 appointments a day during a two-day trading period.
Representatives of new markets such as Poland and Lithuania came to negotiate business deals with exhibitors from Thailand, underscoring the Kingdom's popularity in the region.
Given its big potential, Thailand must be more strategic with Asean tourism, he said. Starting with the CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) group, Sansern said network connections must be made, especially with countries that share a land border with the Kingdom.
With Indonesia and the Philippines, the TAT will promote air travel connectivity via an increase of flight frequency. The introduction of secondary destinations like Medan and Surabaya in Indonesia is a good example.
Last year, there were 74.8 million people travelling in Asean and 46 per cent of them were intra-region travellers. Asean hopes to keep that number growing by 10 per cent annually.
At the ATF, discussions were held on a variety of issues. In particular, member states were urged to ease their regulations to open their countries up not only to other member of the group, but also to benefit from trade counterparts outside the bloc. A single region-wide visa for non-Asean tourists is an example.
Safety concerns, standardisation of public toilets, labour development, and region-wide licences for a single aviation market were also on the list.
The hope is that what they accomplished at the forum will help secure the growth of Asean tourism in the long run.