ASEAN TRAVEL FORUM News Round-Up 16 to 19 January 2019 -2-

ASEAN, marketing, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Mekong

Halong Bay convention centre welcomed the recently hold 38th edition of the ATF.


The Philippines experienced an unusual year 2018 which has mostly been dominated in world media by the closure of Philippines iconic destination of Boracay to help rehabilitate the island and restore it to its former pristine condition. The tough measure did not however dent into the growth of the country’s total arrivals. “We should have reached 7.1 to 7.4 million international visitors, slightly less than original forecasts. But we still feel satisfied as we see increasing interests for markets such as Europe or China,” explained Arnold T. Gonzales, Deputy Chief Operating Officer for Marketing and Promotions of Tourism Promotion Board Philippines (TPB). Korea remains Philippines largest inbound market with over 1.6 million tourists followed now by China with 1.3 million travellers and the USA with a million travellers -including however many Filipino Americans.

The closure of Boracay had however a positive effect according to Tourism State Secretary Bernadette Romulot-Puyat. “In a way Boracay six month closure forced many tourists to look for other destinations. It turned then into an opportunity for Camiguin, Iloilo, Siargao or El Nido in Palawan,” she stressed.

” We have now plans to take similar cleaning measures in other parts of the country as we strongly believe that protecting our environment should have priority over unbridled tourism development. Environment integrity is more important than numbers,” declared the State Secretary.

Priorities for the government has been to accelerate infrastructure development, improve policies on access, connectivity and security as well as creating a culture of sustainable tourism. Regarding infrastructure, the Philippines has an ambitious program of opening new airports and highways. Last year, Cebu inaugurated a brand new international terminal while Bohol Panglao International Airport opened its doors, providing capacity for three million passengers. The government also attributed the construction of the new Clark International Terminal and gave its green light for a greenfield airport in Bucalan to serve Metro Manila.


2018 can be qualified as an good year for Singapore tourism sector. Data for 2018 are still not available but according to Singapore Tourism Board Executive Director Communication Oliver Chong, total arrivals to Singapore should be in a range of 17.6 to 18.1 million, a growth in a range of 4% to 6% while total tourism receipts should remain flat compared to 2017 based on numbers for the first half of 2018. India, the UK, the USA and Vietnam were the fastest growing markets to Singapore last year, based on figures from January to November. All Singapore top 15 markets showed growth, South Korea excepted.

A particular satisfactory evolution is the cruise segment. In 2017, Singapore recorded 1.38 million cruise guests, up by 17%, comforting the country’s strategy to make cruises a priority segment.

In 2019, the biggest celebration will be linked to Singapore Bicentennial, commemorating the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles on the shore of the island. It will be an occasion for locals as well as visitors alike to reflect on Singapore’s history with a series of special events. Another major event is the opening of Singapore Changi spectacular shopping mall, Jewel, which will offer entertainment, retail and gastronomy under a canopy evocating a rainforest.


Thailand is ASEAN Chairman for 2019 and tourism authorities want to use the opportunity to push the economic association to improve connectivity within the region and work at creating a more sustainable tourism environment. During ATF media briefing, Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, TAT Deputy Governor for International Marketing – Asia and the South Pacific stated that “Thailand has an important role as the ASEAN Chairman. Under the theme of ‘Advancing Partnership for Sustainability’, Thailand will seek to develop an ASEAN community, which is people-centred, leaves no one behind, and looks to the future.”

The Kingdom wants to use already its knowledge in terms of management of tourism destinations. Thailand wants to rebalance tourism flows by putting the highlight on secondary destinations. “We are working intensively to promote i emerging tourism destinations in a way that better balances both seasonality and distribution. The goal is to achieve a more even distribution of visitors between urban and rural areas, as well in the months of travel. We also want to encourage more travel during weekdays to reduce pressure on the weekends.”

A bound of regional destinations have been chosen. From 24 at the start, the total of emerging destinations is up to 55 due mostly to political pressure to add more provinces. “However, not all destinations are at the same stage of development to welcome international travellers. We took criteria such as connectivity, accessibility, possibility of activities and sightseeing as well as accommodation and identify six to ten destinations which are ready to welcome international travellers,” added TAT Deputy Governor.

Thailand is now looking at sharing its experiences with other countries in the region and is looking at promoting multi-countries circuits around themes in culture, history or nature. In 2018, Thailand welcomed around 38 million international visitors, up by 6.8% over 2017.


Vietnam tracked or even passed Indonesia as ASEAN fourth largest tourism destination with international arrivals topping in 2018 some 15.5 million. This good performance was achieved due to skyrocketing tourist numbers from China. With 23.9% growth last year, Chinese travelers represent Vietnam largest inbound source market with a total of 4.97 million. South Korea came second with 3.49 million arrivals, a jump of 44.3% over 2017.

Vietnam success is due to easier entrance conditions into the country with the generalization of e-visa facilities, a sharp increase in air connections with new flights being initiated to secondary destinations such as Danang, Phu Quoc, Haiphong and Dalat. The opening of Van Dong international airport in Halong Bay at the end of last year should rapidly translate into the establishment of new direct international flights to the area.

While the country will continue to use its slogan “Timeless Charm”, it is adding the new adjective ‘Soulful” to its newest marketing campaign. The main focus in 2019 will also be the promotion of gastronomy, a common theme chosen by ASEAN secretariat. Vietnam forecasts to receive by the end of the year 17.5 million international travellers.


Results of ASEAN Tourism Marketing Strategy for the period covering 2017-2020 was presented by the representants of the 10 ASEAN NTOs during a special media briefing in Halong Bay.  Four objectives have been defined:

  • Raise awareness over the unique qualities of Southeast Asia and inspire travel.
  • Digitally-focused marketing action plan that provides a framework for ASEAN NTOs.
  • Implementation process based on collective programs/mechanisms with key industry partnerships.
  • Improve regional experiences for visitors coming to the region that meet the development of the 10 ASEAN member countries.

Digital marketing is seen as the most efficient marketing tool due to limited resources provided by the 10 countries to the tourism secretary within ASEAN. Digital marketing will then focus major inbound markets such as intra-ASEAN travel, Australia, Europe, India, the Middle-East, China, Korea, Japan and the USA. Thematics to be develop will be related to culinary, culture and heritage, adventure and nature as well as wellness. Among the measures being taken is an update of ASEAN tourism website while a communication agency based in the USA has been selected to give a better visibility to the ASEAN entity.


The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office seized the opportunity of its presence at the ASEAN Travel Forum to present to media its latest strategic development. The office continues to emphasize thematic tourism through eight multi-countries routes putting in highlight culture and heritage, culinary, history, wellness, nature and adventure. MTCO however is only looking at offering sustainable tourism experiences to travellers. Encouraging better sustainable practices in tourism is supported by the Experience Mekong Collection (EMC) Showcase that encourages and rewards Mekong based tourism organisations.

For its second annual showcase release, the MTCO along with the Mekong Tourism Advisory Group (MeTAG) endorsed and selected following companies: Cambodia’s Soksabike (Tour category); Yunnan The Linden Centre’s (Stay category); Laos Elephant Conservation Center (Do category); Myanmar’s Hla Day (Shop category); Thailand’s Sampran Riverside (Stay category) and Vietnam’s STREETS International (Taste category).

Case studies on each of the 2019 experiences are to be developed by students of the Mahidol University International College in Bangkok. The reports are set to be presented at MTF 2019 in China. “The importance of responsible tourism cannot be underestimated and the Experience Mekong Collection is a wonderful way of highlighting small business examples of good practice,” said MTCO executive director Jens Thraenhart.