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Asean should prioritise quality tourism

Update: January, 13/2019 - 09:00
Viet Nam News

The ASEAN Tourism Forum 2019 is due to kick off on January 16 in the heritage city of Hạ Long in the northern province of Quảng Ninh. The event will gather top tourism leaders and experts, as well as hospitality businesses and investors.

Hồng Vân speaks with the Secretary General of the ASEAN-Japan Centre, Masataka Fujita and Lee Hyuk from the ASEAN-Korea Centre about their thoughts on the event as well as the challenges facing ASEAN tourism and lessons that ASEAN can learn from Japan and South Korea. The two inter-governmental organizations have served as key players in building partnerships between ASEAN, Japan and South Korea.

John Gregory Conceicao, executive director of International Relations, Marketing Planning and Oceania, Singapore Tourism Board, also joins the interview and discusses the problems the ASEAN region in encountering while developing tourism as a ‘single destination’.

The ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) is considered one of the most important international events hosted by Việt Nam this year and will discuss a range of important tourism topics. Which areas interest you the most and can you tell us why?

Secretary General of the ASEAN-Japan Centre, Masataka Fujita.

Masataka Fujita: One of the ASEAN-Japan Centre (AJC)’s focuses is sustainable development, so I am always keen to know what is being discussed in this regard. The upcoming ATF should be a time for tourism ministers and important tourism stakeholders to discuss and find a solution to balance between the policy objective of increasing tourism revenue and preserving tourism assets. I find it a very useful occasion to strengthen networks with important decision makers.

Lee Hyuk: It is a pleasure to be invited to the ATF 2019. It will be my first time attending meetings of ASEAN Tourism Ministers and ASEAN Plus Three Tourism Ministers. I will be delighted to share with the ministers the outcomes of the activities that the ASEAN-Korea Centre (AKC) has conducted to promote ASEAN’s rich cultures and tourism attractions in South Korea, while enhancing capacities of tourism practitioners and supporting sustainable tourism development in the region.

In line with the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan (ATSP) 2016-2025, the AKC aims to implement sustainable and inclusive tourism programmes in 2018.

The AKC is also seeking to keep our programmes up-to-date with the recent trends in ASEAN. With the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution, there’s a growing need for ASEAN’s tourism industry to actively embrace innovative yet disruptive digital technologies. On the occasion of the forum, the ASEAN Tourism Conference will be held under the theme Connecting Heritage for ASEAN Tourism Development in the Digital Age. The AKC will attend the conference to learn how ASEAN will tackle the new challenges brought about by virtual reality and smart technologies and align its tourism programmes with ASEAN’s actual needs and demands.

Secretary General of the ASEAN-Korea Centre, Lee Hyuk.

The forum’s theme this year is ‘ASEAN-the power of one’. ASEAN countries are also promoting ‘ASEAN as a single destination’. What are the challenges facing this?

John Gregory Conceicao: The ASEAN Tourism Marketing Strategy will address challenges such as co-ordinating marketing efforts, developing infrastructure and capacity building.  

Through the collective efforts of member states, we can create opportunities for our people, and better compete with other regions to attract visitors.

The ASEAN region has become an attractive tourist destination for both inter-regional and intra-regional tourists. What do you see as the selling points for ASEAN tourism?

John Gregory Conceicao: Southeast Asia is very popular with tourists from around the world. Tourist arrivals to ASEAN states accounted for 9.5 per cent of world tourist arrivals in 2017. There is also a high volume of intra-regional travel, with intra-regional travel contributing to 42 per cent of total international arrivals.

John Gregory Conceicao, executive director, International Relations, Marketing Planning and Oceania, Singapore Tourism Board.

The ASEAN states have made Southeast Asia an attractive region for tourists. There is year-round warm weather, close to 40 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and an incredible richness and diversity in culture. This also makes ASEAN an ideal cruise destination, with calm waters and multiple destinations within short sailing distances.

 As a region, Southeast Asia also possesses a distinctly unique blend of heritage and modernity, where age-old traditions retain their charms and are not forgotten in the fast-paced society of today.

How do you evaluate the tourism potentials of the ASEAN region in Japan/ South Korea?

Masataka Fujita: It has a big potential. Japanese people do not take long vacations so ASEAN destinations that are located close to Japan are ideal places to visit. Food in ASEAN member states also suit the Japanese, as rice and noodles are our main staples. As part of its recent programme, the AJC has been promoting ASEAN as educational travel destinations to encourage more youngsters to visit these countries. Many schools in Japan look for school trip destinations that are safe and affordable, which means ASEAN members have advantages over other countries.

Lee Hyuk: In 2018, the number of people-to-people exchanges between South Korea and ASEAN is projected to exceed 10 million for the first time, possibly reaching 11 million. As far as the volume of people-to-people contact is concerned, ASEAN and South Korea are looking at a very bright future.

Amid the ever-growing exchanges, the New Southern Policy of the South Korean government has set a target of increasing the number of annual mutual visits between ASEAN and South Korea to 15 million by 2020. This government initiative aims to build a robust and mutually beneficial partnership with ASEAN, as it possesses great potential to become a global economic powerhouse and partner to prosper with. With growing purchasing power in ASEAN and an increasing number of its younger population wanting to travel to and experience South Korea, tourism between ASEAN and South Korea can only grow.

Japan is among the world’s fastest growing travel destinations and also a perfect example of developing tourism while protecting its natural and cultural heritage. How can ASEAN countries learn from Japan’s experience?

Masataka Fujita: Japan is gaining momentum as a tourism destination, and many of the ASEAN members have been successful in tourism for a longer period. I believe Japan has a lot to learn from them. Japan is targeting to welcome 40 million visitors a year, so protecting natural and cultural heritage is crucial. It is challenging to balance tourism and cultural/natural heritage protection. As far as over-tourism is concerned, dangers to tourism assets should be avoided as recovering them is very difficult once they actually happen. At the same time costs would be high if we had to curb the number of tourists. Therefore, we need to think about how we can preserve and protect tourism assets in a cost-effective manner. In this respect, AJC promotes “interpretation” – a communication tool to achieve this objective – and implements the training on interpretation in various ASEAN members.

Some Japanese localities are also taking measures to cope with the negative impacts of tourism, which could also be useful for ASEAN members. I believe the key would be to involve communities, residents and other stakeholders to decide a direction that would not conflict with the interests of people.

In 2018, Việt Nam received more than 15 million international tourists. Of those, the number of Korean tourists ranked second. Việt Nam is one of the core countries in President Moon Jae-in’s New Southern Policy and recently football has brought Việt Nam and South Korea closer. What do you think the two countries should do to fully tap their great potential, especially in tourism?

Lee Hyuk: There’s no doubt that Việt Nam and South Korea are enjoying an ever-closer partnership. The Việt Nam National Administration of Tourism revealed that the number of Korean visitors to Việt Nam hit more than 3 million in 2018, an increase of 44.3 per cent from the previous year. According to the Korea Tourism Organization, Việt Nam is one of the fastest growing tourism markets for Koreans. More than 400,000 Vietnamese visited South Korea from January through November 2018, showing a 42.3 per cent increase from the previous year. Some of the destinations in Việt Nam such as Đà Nẵng, Hồ Chí Minh City, Hạ Long Bay, and Hội An have become household names among Korean travellers.

Such remarkable growth in people-to-people exchanges is partly due to the synergy made by various factors such as geographical proximity, traditional and social media exposure, the increased number of low cost carriers (LCCs) and direct flights, and competitive costs. Most importantly, South Korean people are becoming more aware of Việt Nam because of increased co-operation between the two countries. They are learning that Việt Nam offers diverse tourism products and experiences ranging from a rich inventory of natural and cultural heritages to authentic cuisines. Therefore, the key to unlocking the potential is to improve mutual understanding.

Recognising this, the AKC will continue to carry out an array of culture and tourism programmes to enhance the South Korean public’s understanding of the culture, history and people of ASEAN. Marking the 30th anniversary of the ASEAN-Korea Dialogue Relations and the 10th anniversary of its establishment this year, the AKC will place a particular emphasis on implementing large-scale projects where people from ASEAN and South Korea can better understand each other. Just to name a few, the ASEAN Train will invite 20-30 each from the 10 ASEAN states to South Korea to meet with Koreans and ASEAN nationals residing in South Korea and take a nationwide train tour together and enjoy various cultural activities at each stop. The ASEAN Week will feature ASEAN performances, cafés, a food truck and K-pop to expose a wider range of the Korean public to ASEAN cultures.

When faced with an existential threat like climate change and loss of natural and cultural heritage, what can ASEAN-Japan co-operation do to fight it?

Masataka Fujita: Climate change requires collective efforts. As a disaster-resistant country, Japan has accumulated experiences and information to share with ASEAN. It is very important to provide practical information to visitors and potential visitors even before, at the time of and after disasters to limit their negative impacts and recover from them. 

With its rich culture and history as well as diverse national heritage, ASEAN has been trying to develop quality tourism. What needs to be taken into account when developing quality tourism in ASEAN given that it still faces some crucial challenges like investment in tourism facilities, services and connectivity, along with limited human resources?

Lee Hyuk: According to the ATSP 2016-2025, ASEAN plans to become a quality tourism destination by 2025 and is committed to sustainable and inclusive tourism development. To this end, it is imperative to take into account different interests, expectations and roles of key stakeholders such as government officials, private investors and community members involved in tourism development and operations.

It is equally important to facilitate sub-regional co-operation such as that of the CLMV – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Việt Nam. Regular meetings of CLMV tourism ministers and working groups have enabled them to enjoy the benefits of joint marketing and promotions, knowledge-sharing and technology transfer, improved co-ordination when dealing with adverse events, and harmonized travel formalities and service standards.

Finally, I would like to point out that the implementation of the ASEAN Tourism Standards will contribute to quality tourism development. Fully implemented standards in the tourism industry across the region and the implementation of Mutual Recognition Arrangement on Tourism Professionals (MRA-TP) can improve the quality of tourism facilities, services and destinations, allow a free flow of talent, and project an image of ASEAN as a competitive tourism destination. 

John Gregory Conceicao: The pursuit of quality tourism is an ongoing process. In order to stay ahead of the curve, our regional hardware and software will have to continuously adapt and change to respond to new tourism trends and leverage opportunities.  

As the number of visitors to ASEAN is growing, infrastructure will have to be enhanced to accommodate this larger pool of visitors. We also have to continually upskill and ensure that people within the tourism industry remain valued, competitive and have good job prospects.  

As part of the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan, member states have also been implementing initiatives to divert tourists to alternative destinations within their respective countries as part of the inclusive tourism strategy. Developmental resources are being channelled to new upcoming destinations resulting in benefits to these communities. VNS

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