ATF 2017: A Missed Opportunity for Both ASEAN and Singapore?

ATF 2017 closed its doors last Friday after a week of events. While last Monday and Tuesday were exclusively reserved to officials from Ministries, National Tourism Authorities as well as representatives of tourism bodies (hotels, PATA, airlines etc…), Wednesday to Friday welcomed the ASEAN tourism conference and the TRAVEX, opened to buyers, sellers and media. Press Conferences of each NTO are another major highlight for media to learn about strategies and the tourism evolution in each member country.

The ASEAN Travel Forum gives also an opportunity to learn about newest trends and evolutions in the region (the purpose of the conference) while the TRAVEX helps professionals to get an idea of new products or destinations in the ten ASEAN member States. Last but not least, the host country -Singapore in 2017- generally uses the event to highlight its tourism assets and to show its sense of hospitality.

ATF 2017 was of particular importance as the political entity celebrates this year the 50th anniversary of its establishment. ASEAN NTOs and the ASEAN Secretariat unveiled already at ITB Berlin last year initiatives for this year. This includes special tour packages – carefully selected by the 10 member countries of ASEAN within the “Visit ASEAN@50 Golden Celebration 2017 Campaign”, a new branding as well as an endorsement from Mastercard and AirAsia to promote the packages. The official objective is to attract this year 121 million of travellers instead of 108.9 million in 2015 as well as increasing tourism receipts from USD75 billion in 2014 to USD83 billion, also by the end of next year.

That was the frame of ATF 2017. But things went rather wrong. There was little publicity done around the 50 Special packages. The big launch was done during the Opening Ceremony but it excluded sellers and non-hosted media- a large part of the guests attenting the ATF. There was no special press conference for media to highlight ASEAN efforts for this special year. In fact, this golden celebration remained very much discreet. A few banners lost in the midst of advertising billboards in town were remembering locals and tourists about the event taking place at Marina Sands Hotel. The special event that ASEAN@50 represents went totally unnoticed by most, including at ATF.

And then, there was the way Singapore itself hosted the event. Beside the hosting of official delegations (Ministers, organisations and NTOs), delegates had the feeling that Singapore was more annoyed than pleased to host the event. Nothing was really done to promote Singapore as a destination by showcasing new products, by enticing people to venture around town or just by showing a sense of hospitality. Supposedly hospitality is the quintessence of Asian people. Singapore officials however seem to have lost it following decades of economic success!

A wonderful opportunity was to have organised post-tours or common events with neighbouring destinations such as Batam/Bintan in Indonesia or Johor Bahru in Malaysia. Just in the name of ASEAN spirit and to showcase how the region is turning into one single community. It was actually the purpose of AEC (ASEAN Economic Community) establishment a year ago. Or was it not? Finally, could ATF 2017 be summarized as the event of lost opportunities? Thailand will host the next ASEAN Travel Forum in 2018 in Chiang Mai. The Kingdom looks already more than delighted to showcase to the world the destination and offer its best. Long live ATF 2018!