Aviation Drives Tourism and Connectivity in the GMS

Mekong Trends GMS

Underlying the strength and dynamism of aviation in the Greater Mekong Sub-region

The first Mekong Trends Roundtable on GMS Aviation organised by Destination Mekong in partnership with Amadeus and the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office took place on October 10 at the Amadeus Executive Briefing Centre in Bangkok, and was attended by travel and tourism professionals as well as members of the media and academics.

The seminar underlined the dynamics of the aviation sector in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. A presentation over the MTCO first snapshot highlights the tremendous changes in the region. The report was presented for the first time during the Mekong Tourism Forum in Luang Prabang and can be downloaded for free at www.mekongtrends.com. Mekong Trends is an insight platform to highlight key issues and trends in the GMS under the Destination Mekong public-private partnership framework.

The seminar opened with dynamic presentations from Jens Thraenhart, Executive Director Mekong Tourism, about the activities of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office and Marco Weigang, Head, Business & Performance Management Asia Pacific, Russia, Turkey and CIS for Amadeus, Airline Group.

The Greater Mekong sub-region has seen a rapid growth of its aviation sector over the last two decades. In 2015, GMS airports welcomed over 250 million passengers. There are over 20 airlines headquartered in the region including global carriers such as Thai Airways International and Vietnam Airlines as well as some of Asia most dynamic low cost airlines such as Thai AirAsia, Vietjet, Nok Air and Thai Lion Air. They are a dozen airports with over 10 million passengers a year and over 30 airports with over one million passengers. Every year, new air routes are opening up with a trend to increasingly link secondary destinations to international and regional destinations.

An expert round table welcomed four specialists of the aviation and tourism sectors to discuss the evolution of the aviation market – Peter Wiesner, special advisor to Bangkok Airways CEO, Joseph Cusmano, Country Manager Thailand Oman Air, Le Tuan Anh, Deputy Director General in the International Cooperation Department, Marketing Manager Vietnam National Tourism Administration and Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, Deputy Governor for Policy and Planning, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). Luc Citrinot, editor in chief of ASEAN.travel and author of the Mekong Trends Snapshot report on GMS aviation, moderated the debate.

Asked to evaluate what have been the most dramatic evolutions in the region, experts named the emergence of Vietnam as a new aviation powerhouse. “Although Bangkok remains the leading hub in the region, it has lost opportunities to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, which have been upgraded to gateways to the Mekong region”, said Peter Wiesner. “We are pleased to see Vietnam aviation being now considered as a major player in the region. For Vietnam tourism authorities, the most tremendous change has been to open up secondary destinations to international airlines with Danang but also Cam Ranh/Nha Trang, Phu Quoc and now Haiphong being linked to regional capitals”, added Le Tuan Anh.

For Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, the major shift in trends has been the emergence of low cost airlines. “For us as a tourism authority, we used to work in symbiosis with the national carrier as we shared a similar interest to promote our country. It is of course still the case but we have increasingly started to work with low cost carriers such as AirAsia or Nok Air as they fly to many secondary destinations that we want to promote. We conducted new original campaigns with the shift in market trends. Such as painting Thai AirAsia aircraft with ‘Amazing Thailand’ destinations”, he explained.

Airlines and tourism authorities are working increasingly together to develop air connections and turn them into successful stories. It is a logical step as aviation in the GMS will remain the preferred means of transportation for travellers. “Although train networks as well as roads are improving, the fastest and easiest way to reach a destination is to fly. When we conduct surveys, most travellers mentioned that flying remains their first travel option”, added Chattan Kunjara na Ayudhya.

Airlines in return want active common promotion from authorities. “In a classical way, we will organize with familiarization trips with travel agents and media. We also expect to get data and information to predict the potential of a destination”, said Joseph Cusmano.

“We work a lot with local players as well. For example, we just launched a flight between Bangkok and Phu Quoc. As such, we cooperate with local hotels to evaluate the flows of travellers staying at resorts on the island. Most crucial today is that we must offer something new and exciting for the traveller”, added Pieter Wiesner.

Tourism is not the only sector involved. Political will at the highest level is often required. “The destination’s appeal is important. But there is also the question of visa and sufficient infrastructure. We often cooperate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Public Security to open new destinations internationally. The more investment, the more demand for flights, and vice versa”, told Le Tuan Anh.

“For example, Myanmar has a lot of potential. We have seen the total number of airlines serving the country growing from 12 to 29 in less than a decade. However, now there is a need for a new stage in development. At Bangkok Airways, we would love to fly to Bagan and Myer with our ATR regional aircraft. However, we face hurdles such as no immigration facilities or no fuel supply. This is detrimental to tourism development in these regions”, said Peter Wiesner.

However, the four experts agreed that GMS aviation will continue to grow and will still witness tremendous changes over the coming years.

The Mekong Trends GMS Aviation Snapshot report is to be downloaded free of charge under www.mekongtrends.com