Why It Matters

Asean tourism game-changers

At the 36th annual Asean Tourism Forum held in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about the targets set for member countries to boost tourism.

The Visit Asean@50 campaign, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of Asean, will seek to attract 121 million visitors this year, and aim to get tourists to spend US$83 billion (S$118 billion) and stay an average of six to seven days.

These numbers are "entirely achievable", said PM Lee, who launched the campaign last Wednesday.

This combined effort is necessary to sustain tourism in the region in the long term, because of its importance to Asean economies.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Asean is one of the world's most tourism-dependent regions. Travel and tourism contribute 12.4 per cent of total gross domestic product, nearly 4 per cent above that of most other regions.

The Visit Asean@50 campaign will highlight the region's 50 best festivals and 50 most unforgettable travel experiences.

The campaign's website urges visitors - whether culture buffs, city dwellers or diving enthusiasts - to discover different countries within the region.

One tour package, for example, will take a tourist through Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok for the ultimate city experience.

This is the first time that South-east Asia is being promoted as a single destination. Asean is an "important life raft for all of us", given an uncertain global environment, PM Lee said.

He suggested three ways to drive tourism growth - strengthen air links within Asean, promote cruises within the region and develop talent in the industry.

Cruise tourism, in particular, has been identified as having "huge potential". Asean has committed itself to developing cruise infrastructure, training staff and improving onshore activities.

With a projected tenfold increase in the number of cruise passengers to South-east Asia, to 4.5 million by 2035, such initiatives may be game-changers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline 'Asean tourism game-changers'. Print Edition | Subscribe