Extract from View From Asia, fDi magazine, Financial Times, London, Nov 2019
World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) states that tourism is an SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) accelerator in 3 areas: provision of decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), as well as partnerships for the goals (SDG 17).
East Asia has historically been the best performer in the region in terms of number of arrivals, led by Japan. This sub-region offers strong safety and health conditions, provides world-class and ICT ready infrastructure, and offers promotions which leverage on their natural and cultural resources.
MasterCard ’s Global Top 20 Destination Cities by International Overnight Visitors (2018) reports that Asian cities took 10 spots: Bangkok, Singapore, KL, Tokyo, Seoul, Osaka, Phuket, Pattaya, Bali and Hong Kong.
Beyond safety and good infrastructure, what makes Asia attractive also is its eclectic diversified mix of modern/traditional, exotic/mystical elements, plus lower relative costs and sunny weather. Tourists can enjoy modern facilities in the advanced cities and once venturing further into the inner hinterland or paradise islands, can also savour the slower paced traditional settings, night markets, food and local culture. There are also themed locations like medical, shopping, spiritual retreats and gambling tourism spots.
It’s no wonder that tourist arrivals in Asia and the Pacific grew by +7% in 2018 to 345 million during January to June 2018 period. This is around a quarter of the world’s total and ahead of other regions. Asia’s 7% was the highest growth across world regions. Results were driven by South-East Asia (+9%) where most destinations posted strong growth, particularly Vietnam. Indonesia had a double-digit increase in arrivals this period, due to continued strong growth from China and India as well as better air connectivity. Thailand, Cambodia and Philippines all recorded double-digit growth as well due to strong growth of Chinese visitors.
Naturally, there will be short term challenges like protest strikes, political sabre-rattling between countries, and terrorist attacks unless these worsen into unresolved chronic condition.
What will sustain Asia’s attractiveness would be the maintenance of basic infrastructure and upgrading of finer lifestyle facilities. An example is Singapore’s upgrading of its world-class Changi Airport with the addition of Jewel, a nature-themed entertainment and retail complex. Popular social media like Instagram also continue to inspire new locations and travel trends.
It will be an ongoing leapfrogging race to enhance Asia’s tourism development where winners win until they are dethroned and re-enthroned again with competition for tourism spending constantly intensifying from other world regions.