SPECIAL ATF: Thinking Positive about the Visit ASEAN@50 Campaign

ASEAN, ATF, trends

2017 marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The celebration was accompanied by a special campaign to boost tourism under the theme “Visit ASEAN@50”. What has been so far the result and was it really due to the campaign?

ASEAN Tourism Ministers gathered in Chiang Mai last week as the ASEAN Travel Forum was taking place in the capital of Northern Thailand. An important event which also gave the opportunity to the Chairperson of the meeting, Thailand Minister of Tourism and Sports Weerasak Kowsurat to express his satisfaction. “Based on preliminary results, ASEAN ten member states should have registered close to 126 million foreign arrivals last year, exceeding largely the target of 121 million international tourist arrivals for the region, as set for VisitASEAN@50”, indicated the soft-spoken Minister.

This represented a growth of 8.4% over 2016 with intra-ASEAN travel reaching a share of 42% of all international arrivals. Growth rate accelerated compared to previous years: between 2014 and 2015, total international arrivals had grown by 7.4% and by 5.2% between 2015 and 2016. Thailand tourism minister pointed out that activities within the campain Visit ASEAN@50 were a major catalyst to the result. “Promotional events around the world at large travel shows, individual NTOs initiatives within the campaign, the micro-site of Visit ASEAN@50 and special packages contributed all to the result”, said Mr. Kowsurat.

In total, tourism for ASEAN generated some US$93 billion in revenues with visitors staying on average 7.98 days. As a next step, ASEAN tourism bodies and the private sector will continue to work on promoting new multi-ASEAN packages and 130 tourism products with a strong emphasize given to gastronomy tourism, a major asset all across Southeast Asia. To foster tourism movements within ASEAN and provide flexibility, a single visa for the entire association would be of course ease multi-destinations travel. “We have been talking about it for many years. We are moving step by step closer to the idea. It will take time, the path is long and they are still many further levels to climb on the ladder. But we every year come closer”, reassured Thailand tourism minister.

Was then the Visit ASEAN@50 campaign really a driving force to the successful tourism year in 2017? It is not that sure although it is difficult to really estimate the true impact of a campaign.

The Visit ASEAN@50 -if highlighted at a few events- kept generally a rather low profile around the world. ASEAN Secretariat -which coordinates action for the 10 member states- is working with small budgets which only allows minimal exposure. According to some reports, ASEAN Secretariat budget reached only US$20 million in 2016.

Thailand Minister of Tourism and Sports Weerasak Kowsurat during the ATF Final Press Conference

It is a drop in the bucket compared to EU budget of US$150 billion or even compared to Thailand budget for tourism.The tourism authority of Thailand had a budget of US$215 million in Financial Year 2017 while the government put in its 2016 budget an envelop of US$454 million to help developing tourism in the Kingdom…

The growth in tourism in ASEAN is also largely dependent of external factors to the campaign itself. One of the most dynamic element to tourism growth is indeed the Chinese market. 2017 saw an explosion in new air connections between China and ASEAN with at least 30 new routes being opened in the region. That helped fueling growth. Rising income of ASEAN population makes a trip abroad even more popular. Outbound travel is on sharp rise in Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. And finally smoother land border crossings are also helping to stimulate travel among ASEAN members.

2018 looks as promising as 2017. Further development with China but also with India, more air routes opening and new products across the region will contribute to make ASEAN a still extremely attractive destination around the globe.