Are Visit Year Events of Any Relevance today for Southeast Asia Tourism?

ASEAN, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Visit Year, Marketing

A low profile Visit Year ASEAN in 2017, a failed Visit Year Laos and an ignored Visit Year Thailand in 2018, are such events of any significance today to change the evolution of tourism?

It seems that it happened centuries ago: in 1987, the year Thai King Bhumibol Adhulyadej celebrated its 60th anniversary, Thailand tourism authorities launched the first Visit Year Thailand, the first time such an event had been organised in an Asian country.

Recalling that time, veteran Bangkok-based journalist Imtiaz Muqbil -who followed closely the set up of the event, wrote in a column that “1987 Visit Thailand Year [was] a grand tourism event launched to commemorate the king’s 60th birthday, the auspicious 5th 12-year cycle of life in Asian tradition. Backed by a united industry and a massive budget, the blitz lifted visitor arrivals and cemented the kingdom’s position on the world tourism map. It also triggered a string of copycat “Visit XXXXX Years” by other countries and regions.

31 years and a few more Visit Year organised all across ASEAN countries and even regions, professionals probably wonder what such an event can now bring. The campaign Visit ASEAN@50- launched at the end of 2016 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of ASEAN- went out almost unnoticed by most visitors as it only generated local activities and was not associated with a major rebranding exercise.

Despite launching packages, tours, 50 must-do-visit, the event has already been completely forgotten. To be blamed is probably the limited budget and the lack of ambitions of ASEAN countries themselves to turn the event into a “Splash”.

  • Visit Laos Year

2018 has two other Visit Year. The first one is for Laos, the second for Thailand. For Laos, the only visible aspect of the Visit Year is the logo which now decorates brochures and flyers of the Ministry of Tourism. A lavish launching ceremony has been so far the most noticeable event. Most of the program for the Visit Year Laos relied on already existing events (such as festivals). The biggest move forward which could have brought buzz all across the world would have been the removal of visa for travellers. Evoked by the Laotian government last year, it has little chance now to be implemented. This can certainly be considered as a missed opportunity.

Especially as Laotian tourism is doing badly. Total number of travellers is declining since 2016. And despite the Visit Year, figures for the first four months of 2018 mentioned about a further decrease of 11% compared to 2017. “It might sound good to announce a Visit Year but if it is not accompanied by specific events or special incentives, then it does not make sense,”explains a local hotelier.

  • Visit Year Thailand

The second “Visit Year” is taking place in Thailand. And like in Laos, it will probably go unnoticed but for opposite reasons: tourism figures for the Kingdom are indeed excellent : 35 million international travellers last year and for the first four months of 2018, there is a further growth of  approximately 13% again in international arrivals. A new campaign ‘Open to the New Shades’ gives to Thailand tourism an individual twist as travellers can choose their own way to spend their holiday in the Kingdom.

Then “the Visit Year” campaign does not contribute in any specific way to Thailand tourism success story. Especially as it seems that the private sector even did not seize the opportunity. While in the past, a ‘Visit Year’ was accompanied by special prices, discounts for hotels and air tickets, the way to choose holidays through booking engine and online travel suppliers had totally changed consumption habits. Tourists now look themselves after discount or special offers with or without the support of whatever Visit Year.

  • Visit Year Malaysia 2020

This does not bode well for the next Visit Year. it will take place in Malaysia. launched at the ASEAN Travel Forum in Chiang Mai this year, ‘Visit Year Malaysia 2020’ should be the focus of ITB Berlin 2019 as Malaysia will be the official partner country. But the recent change of government has sent the former Minister of Tourism into retirement with so far no replacement. And since the change, no one in Malaysia talks anymore about the Visit Year…

But after all, is it such a necessity? The change of government in the country – a first in the history of the nation since the independence- is already fueling websites, blogs and other social media. That might actually raise the curiosity of travellers to rediscover Malaysia this year. Especially as GST has been abolished on June 1st, making a holiday to Malaysia a bit cheaper than before!

Finally ‘Visit Year’ events seem to look like an outdated way to promote tourism, an idea from ‘the 1990s’. Necessary to bring awareness to a destination in the past -when internet was non existent- it now deserves to figure only in history books about tourism.