By Murray Bailey

We have nitpicked Asean’s ‘travel management’ over a few years, but now feel that there is a need for a more-thorough critique.


We have reverted to the base – that the Asean travel secretariat exists to promote visitation into the 10 Asean destinations. In other words, a business function, not a political one.


That this needs to be stated can be considered the first critique.


The second is the ‘state-of-the-union’ reports during the annual ATF* and only on that occasion. These reports are called ‘Media Statements’. But ‘statements’ about what, and why just to media?


Expressed this way, and these reports are no more than what the ministers-and-equivalents did during their meetings at ATF. Again, to what purpose?


These should be not ‘media statements’ but ‘2015 Annual Review’ (or Report), with sub-categories such as ‘Aviation Open Skies’, ‘Intra-Asean Promotions’, etc.


Following, then, is our review of Asean’s AR*. Unfortunately, this is overwhelmingly a negative report. Not for its own sake, but because we believe much, too much, is wrong if the authorities want an active travel marketing organisation rather than a do-little politics-in-travel bureaucracy.


We have included a What To Do section, giving our ideas, and attempting to be constructive not only destructive.



Asean Tourism Strategic Plan

Statements (these, and others in the sections below, may have been paraphrased if not in single quotation marks):


-‘By 2025, Asean will be a quality tourism destination offering a unique, diverse Asean experience, and will be committed to responsible, sustainable, inclusive and balanced tourism development, so as to contribute significantly to the socio-economic well-being of Asean people.’


-91% of the measures in ATSP* 2011-15 have been implemented. Includes joint marketing, product development, improving quality products and services, human resources. Introduced ATSP 2016-25.


-Implementation of this ATSP will be monitored by the 10 DMOs, and four ‘newly restructured subsidiary committees’ – Asean Tourism Competitiveness Committee, Asean Sustainable and Inclusive Tourism Committee, Asean Tourism Resources, Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, Asean Tourism Professional Monitoring Committee.



-We did not know ATSP existed and although we could be impressed with the precision that enables its 91% claim, the claim is nevertheless simply incorrect. But most of those actions in its list have not been ‘implemented’ (which implies ‘completion’) but simply ‘started’, and some even no more than ‘discussed’. In addition, it is impossible to reach implementation, because there will always be more that could be done. For instance, making a destination a ‘quality’ destination will never be complete (even if it could be measured).


-ATSP 2016-25. This is based on a political-Asean meeting end-2015 where Asean political leaders laid out visions-etc for 2025. In other words, AS is simply following a political-Asean agenda, which may or may not be suitable for the travel business.


-Clearly though, a 10-year plan is too long, as AS presumably knows because its first ATSP was for only five years. And we would argue that since then, horizons have got shorter, so even 5-years may be too long.


-Fine statements but full of either meaningless or immeasurable targets. The sort that politicians love, and that practical people abhor.


-In ATSP, AS is clearly referring to inbound leisure travel only (plus, arguably, domestic leisure travel). But elsewhere it lists inbound business travel, other inbound travel, and outbound travel. What will Asean be for those travel sectors in 2025?


-Of course Asean offers a ‘unique Asean’ experience. Because there is only one Asean.

-A ‘quality’ destination in 2025. Not before? Also of course, this is unmeasurable.


-‘Responsible, sustainable, inclusive and balanced’. We are not quite sure what all of these mean in practical terms, and surely there is duplication? Also, again, immeasurable.


-‘Contribute significantly to the socio-economic well-being of Asean people’. Immeasurable. And what/who are ‘Asean people’? If Asean nationals then that rudely excludes non-nationals living in Asean destinations, and makes them second-class at a stroke. And Asean nationals living outside Asean? If inclusive, then why not say ‘residents in Asean nations’, or similar. Nasty nationalistic undertone here.


-ATSP implementation. If extensive monitoring (no fewer than 14 bodies!) ensures success, then ATSP will be a success.



Single Destination; ‘Mutual Recognition’


-Working towards marketing Asean as a single destination, and implementing MRATP*.



-Asean does not realise that most travellers do not see Asean as a single destination, and probably never will. Think of other bodies – certainly the European Union, or NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). Does anyone go visit the EU? Of course many visit Europe as a region, just as many visit Asia as a region. But not Asean, a political and proto-economic region. Trying to market this is wasted effort. But, given the political motivations, it is also wasted effort to convince AS that this is wasted effort.


-(MRATP. We thought this a good idea for Asean’s many traffic-snarled cities, but then found it was not an acronym for an Asean mass-transit system – Mass Rapid Asean Transport Project?)


-MRATP. Of course. Hopefully this will work, but indications – with non-national tour buses, for instance – are not positive. Can you believe that a Singapore tour bus company would be allowed to operate entirely in Malaysia, Thailand, or wherever? One day, yes, but the fact that this program is scheduled to run to 2025 means that all the hard decisions will get kicked down the road until then, and will then be renamed for another longterm plan. 2035 anyone?





-With the establishment of the ‘Asean Community’ this year, AS plans to promote Asean as a single destination for 2017, the 50th anniversary of the creation of Asean. The promotion will feature ‘iconic Asean tourism products, events, experiences, particularly those reflecting the richness of cultural, heritage and natural environment, as well as the warm hospitality extended by the people of Asean’.


-Target audiences are Asean, rest-of-Asia, Pacific, Middle East, Europe.



-No ‘iconic Asean tourism products [etc]’ named. 100s could fit this description, but the numbers which are motivational is small. Our list is short; it comprises over-visited Siem Reap of course, but also Borobudur, Marina Bay Sands, Halong Bay, Shwedagon Pagoda. Nothing (sorry) in Brunei, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines. And Thailand has much, but we believe no single ‘icon’. Many attractions are good and attractive, of course, but not motivational for the general traveller.


-No iconic events and experiences either – although this is not to say there are no wonderful motivating products, events, experiences. But ‘iconic’ has a special and strong meaning; we suspect AS would devalue that meaning by including many tourism attractions under ‘iconic’. (We have seen how AS’s over-long list of environmental-award winners devalues the importance of this aspect of the travel business.)


-Target audiences for Asean@50 belie one of the other aims – intraAsean travel. But that list covers most of the world, with one puzzling exception – no North America. That is a puzzle (we cannot believe it is political, because Asean and the US are quite close at present – partly to counter China’s provocative moves in the South China Sea, although no-one in the travel section of Asean would make any comment on that). But it is also dumb. US outbound travel, in particular, is strong at present (+7% in 2015, excluding the faster growth to contiguous Canada and Mexico).


-However, all this seems to be left to the DMOs, which means implementation will be irregular. And overall, results will be difficult to measure. In turn, that will mean, ironically, that AS will be able to claim in 2018 that Asean@50 was a success for the travel business.



Human Resources


-Establish a Regional Secretariat (in Jakarta), which will ‘provide support for [MRATP’s] operations and management as well as the implementation of related projects and activities at the regional level, including formulating, updating and providing recommendations on necessary mechanism to enable [MRATP’s] smooth implementation’.


-Each Asean member to explain how they will implement MRATP, ‘undertake intensive preparation’ to open the RS this year and to ‘successfully’ implement the MRATP.


-’The ministers welcomed the Project to support the transition phase in establishing [the RS]’.


-There are also the Asean Tourism Professionals Registration System, and the Toolbox Development for Travel Agencies and Tour Operations.



-That first task of the RS (‘provide support…’) looks either awesome or confusing. It must provide recommendations for the implementation of MRATP, yet the next sentence charges the Asean nations (presumably DMOs) to show how they will implement MRATP.


-’Intensive preparation’ to open the RS this year. So when will it open? And is there a difference between ‘implementation’ and ‘successful implementation’?


-We are not clear what the ‘Project’ is, but it appears to be the MRATP. So how can that support the ‘transition phase’ (and what is that?) to establish the RS? And the task of the RS is to implement MRATP, so which comes first – the MRATP or the RS?


-Although registration is clearly needed, not needed is yet another operation for that. Not every function to operate MRATP needs a separate commission, committee, or system.



Quality Tourism


-Noted that 89 hotels have complied with the new Asean Green Hotel Standard. Asean Homestay Award Ceremony gave certificates to 31 organisations and providers, and noted that homestays ‘enhance local quality of life to generate income, support local culture, arts and crafts business, encourage restoration of local and historic sites, and foster conservation efforts through community education’.


-Other awards are planned: Asean Community Based Tourism Award in 2017, and Asean Clean Tourist City Award in 2018.



-We did not note above, but there is another Asean body – the Asean Tourism and Climate Change Monitoring System and Work Plan. Oh dear.


-Perhaps, as for beauty, everybody has their opinion on what is ‘quality tourism’. For us, QT tends to be up-market, or at most value-for-money – something else that is hard-if-not-impossible to measure.


-That said, we would not include homestays in QT. Nor environmentally-friendly entities. After all, if 89 hotels are EF-ergo-QT, does that mean the other say-5000 in Asean do not qualify as QT outlets?


-Asean’s green hotels standard has missed something big – the rest of the travel business. Everyone and every business can be green, not just hotels.


-Wow; homestays do all that? And we thought it was just a new name for bed-and-breakfast. Yes, they are good, but this is taking things too far – and expecting too much.


-In theory we support those awards in 2017 and 2018, even if such awards are generally given to favourites, or those to favour. For instance, Singapore is obviously the winner for the city award, and if it does not get it (and every year for at least the next five years), then the award has no credibility. (In the same way that any best-airport award that goes to an airport other than Singapore Changi is not credible.)



Promoting Asean Tourism


-Noted continued enhancement of website. Praised promotional chapters in Mumbai and Sydney. And travel promotion activities of (political) Asean centres in China, Korea, Japan. Adopted the updated Asean Crisis Communications Manual (ACCM).



-Website enhancement is good, although there are no clues on what enhancements. More important is details on how many are visiting the site, how many pages visited, time spent, etc? AS not only gives us no data, but we are left with the impression that this is less important than ‘enhancement’.


-Nothing noted about travel promotion activities in India, supposedly a key target market.


-One of ACCM’s tasks is to ‘uphold the credibility of the [presumably Asean DMOs] and/or destinations through the provision of…information to key stakeholders’. This is going off track. We cannot see how the handling of a crisis (say a terrorist attack in Jakarta) is related to showing that Indonesia’s DMO is a credible organisation. Also, Asean seems not to be clear on the target. It notes ‘stakeholders’. In what – the inbound visitor business in (our sample case) Indonesia? Is CNN (presumably one of the targets of these efforts) a stakeholder in Indonesia’s inbound visitor business? We would challenge that. Of course, there is no need to have a target for this information – stakeholder or not. Just providing it – to anyone/everyone – is the most important.



Developing Asean Tourism Product


-Finalised Asean Ecotourism Strategic Plan, which identified heritage trails and transboundary parks to promote together as Asean tour packages linked with Asean open skies. Finalised Guideline of Culture & Heritage Travel Pattern.


-Implementation of Asean Cruise 2015 Work Plan, joint stand at a Miami cruise trade show, some advertising. And a new branding – ‘Cruise Southeast Asia, feel the warmth’. Noted that that slogan ‘highlights the vibrant diversity, the culture and warmth of the people of Southeast Asia, as well as the close relationships between Asean Member states’.


-Noted ‘updates’ on River Based Tourism Development, with WTO.



-We did not know there was an AESP. But it is a good idea, although why bring in Open Skies is a puzzle. (Asean is a long way from OS, which is not defined anywhere, but which the best example is not in the US – which seeks to benefit US airlines – but in the European Union.)


-We do not understand ‘[finalising] of Guideline of Culture & Heritage Travel Pattern’. Even more when Asean adds that a ‘training’ has already been conducted. Is this a training program?


-We are underwhelmed by the new cruise branding. And – what should be a shock – why use ‘Southeast Asia’ for the brand and not ‘Asean’? Does Asean believe in itself?

-Sorry, that brand (‘Cruise Southeast Asia, feel the warmth’) ‘highlights’ only the warmth – nothing else. Please explain how ‘Cruise Southeast Asia, feel the warmth’ highlights ‘vibrant diversity’?


-Also, Timor is in Southeast Asia, but not in Asean, so is it included in this cruise strategy? And so (in the formal geographical definition of ‘Southeast Asia’) are Hong Kong and Macau; are they included in this strategy?


-What are those ‘updates’ on river tourism? Does Asean have nothing to say about the extensive dam-building plans of the Mekong, particularly in Laos and China? Obviously, this is politically very sensitive, but something should be said about the tourism aspect. Is it good or bad?



Asean Tourism Forum


-Noted that it took place, in Manila this January.








-AS, ministers, DMOs, need to understand – hopefully once and for all, but that is dreaming – that not all visitors are tourists. Calculate how many are business, VFR, Other – 30-35% non-tourists? And from all that, work on the fact that their motivation to visit is usually different from attractive beaches, restaurants, excursions, Angkor Wat, etc.


-Calculate total inbound with standardised measures – air arrivals, or arrivals at hotels. Conveniently, our newsletter gives a guide in its data section on one way of doing this.


-Calculate the number of outbound travel/trips according to a standard format, which will then enable calculation of shares of inbound produced in each of the 10 destinations.


-Set visitor arrival targets, for following year, and five years, for each and all. Forget the 10-year outlook.


-Show shares from certain key markets – certainly Australia, China, Germany, India, Japan, UK, US. Set targets.


-Establish a budget, with payment according to a formula (share of total arrivals?). Add a businessplan – what to be achieved where, and with how much money.


-Disband those commissions and sub-secretariats (certainly most-if-not-all those mentioned in this essay).


-Appoint a Chief Executive, Travel (not, please, ‘travel and tourism’ – where ‘and tourism’ is redundant – despite its wide usage). He/she will have equal power with the travel ministries/DMOs, which will constitute the board. He/she will also have a vote on the board – which means 11 votes so no stalemate (although we cannot imagine Asean would vote on anything where opinions were divided 50/50!). Hopefully, he/she will be ethnic Asian, although that should not be a criteria.


-Rework the Asean green hotel standard. Make it industry-wide, not just hotels, and tough. Why not aim to make it the strictest in the world, for others to follow? And only one or two winners from each sector (say 10 sectors, including one for people). We propose Anthony Wong for ‘People’, and his Frangipani resort in Langkawi for Accommodation.





Asean has only four special friends. Three are banded together (China Japan Korea) with India separate. This quite clearly shows that there are ‘friends’ and ‘friends’, and that some potential friends are entirely ignored – such as rich Mongolia, rich Taiwan, poor Timor.


The overall Asean body is so political (economics is taking on a bigger role only now; 49 years after Asean’s creation). So for the travel business to have its own travel-first agenda is practically impossible.


For instance, why have just those four friends and not others – Australia, for instance. And certainly those two other Asean-like multi-nation associations – the EU and NAFTA. Why, for the wellness of Asean destinations, is AS not talking to the EU?



APT* – Asean Plus China Japan Korea


-AS pleased with growth of ‘tourism industry’ in 2015. Counted 250.9mn visitors +7%, with APT producing 67%.


-Promoting ‘people-to-people’ linkages. Signed cooperation agreement to facilitate inter-APT travel, develop quality tourism, cooperate on education and training.


-Noted various activities – tourism cooperation, youth summit, security website, training and education, media familiarisation.


-As with Asean, noted the various Asean Centres with the three, and their activity in promoting travel.


-Thanked China for organising a China-Asean exhibition, workshop, and for providing free Asean booths at the China International Travel Mart.


-Thanked Japan for ‘capacity-building programs’ on community-based tourism, sub-regional such as the Mekong Tourism Award, student exchange.


-Thanked Korea for ‘consulting programs, training, tourism sharing, tourism student programs’



-We are unsure how that 250mn was counted, but it seems likely to include everything, including quasi-domestic travel between China, Hong Kong, Macau. Likewise for that 67% share, which AS ascribes to the ‘APT region’, which is 13 destinations (Asean, plus the 3).


-But not, despite that Greater China domestic count, not domestic counts. Why not? The travel business (which AS describes as the ‘tourism industry’) includes domestic and outbound. It is sad that AS appears not to know the business it is managing. Is it just inbound visitor arrivals?


-Some of these APT endeavours are similar to those for Asean, and thus many suffer from broad and vague non-commitments, and are probably little more than fine words.


-Strangely, the security website takes itself so seriously that it requires username and password to enter, but offers no way of registering; invitation only? And so we have no idea of the value of this activity.


-We believe those Asean Centres are bureaucratic operations with little practical activity (and none of value for the travel business).


-China’s activity in exhibition-related support seems closest to provide practical value.

-Japan’s efforts appear less practical. We don’t know what a ‘capacity-building program’ is. Funds to build visitor attractions, facilities?


-The description of Korea’s efforts indicates that nothing really happened, but Korea had to be included. For instance, what is ‘tourism sharing’ – Asean visitors into Korea, and Korea residents into Asean? Is AS claiming credit for that?



Asean Plus India


-AS is pleased with growth in travel between Asean and India in 2015 – from India 3.57mn visitor arrivals +10%, Asean to India 0.7mn +2%.


-Referred to the need for visa liberalisation.


-Referred to ‘annual programs to enhance’ exchanges including students, farmers, media, diplomats.


-Noted various activities such as mutual participation in exhibitions, establishing Asean-India crisis team, Asean promotional chapter in India, Asean teachers to India.



-(We are disappointed India does not warrant an acronym as does APT – more so in that it could be API.)


-AS is pleased with those shamefully-small visitor figures?! Only 700k visitors from Asean, and 2% growth! If that pleases AS, with what growth would it not be happy? Seriously though, this is yet another indication that AS is not in touch with reality, just with political niceties.


-We are left to wonder about visas. India allows evisas to all 10 Asean nationalities (AS says nine, but the 10th is not named, so we do not know if the official list is different in practice). The problem is the other way – India into Asean. AS makes no reference to this, and so we presume there is no progress.


-What is an annual program? Once a year? Renewed annually? We can understand exchanges between students and farmers – although we note this has nothing to do with the travel business. And are media exchanges just inviting travel writers? Diplomats? Surely AS is not including the exchange of diplomats as a special achievement? If not, to what does this refer?


-We do not understand why participation in exhibitions needs any participation by AS (unless free or discounted for one side), or why the overall Asean crisis centre cannot cover Asean/India crisis requirements also.


-Teachers yes, but why only one way – to tourism institutes in India, and not from India to Asean institutes? Again AS is silent, and so again we presume there is no progress.





-When there is reference to ‘Asean’ in this essay, the reference is to the travel element, not the political or economic elements, unless otherwise stated.

-Our abbreviations/acronyms: AR = Annual Report/Review. AS = Asean Secretariat, but this also means ministry and DMO activities, and anything involving the organisation and implementation of Asean’s travel management.

-Official abbreviations/acronyms: Asean = Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean writes ‘Southeast’, even though this should make the abbreviation ASAN). APT = Asean Plus Three (China Japan Korea). ATF = Asean Tourism Forum. ATSP = Asean Tourism Strategic Plan. MRATP = Mutual Recognition Arrangement on Tourism Professionals.

-Asean members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam.




Murray Bailey is Editor/Research Director of Travel Business Analyst.