THE BUZZWORD AT THIS YEAR'S ASEAN Tourism Forum in Bangkok was "synergy." In his opening remarks, Dr. Suvit Yodmani, Thailand's minister of tourism and sports, encouraged members to think of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as a single destination, and to consider themselves partners rather than competitors. ASEAN's membership comprises Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Brunei.
At the forum, ASEAN countries laid out their tourism initiatives for the year. For host Thailand, one plan is to increase promotion of boutique hotels. "All over Thailand, one of the most important new trends is the emergence of a whole range of chic boutique properties catering to niche markets," said Phornsiri Manoharn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. She also noted that cruising will grow in southeast Asia as the region's facilities develop, and she encouraged interested parties to visit www.cruiseasean.com.
The Philippines is intent on attracting the luxury market. "We are selling the kinds of products that attract the higher-spending visitor: wellness, education, convention, shopping and honeymoon," said Oscar P. Palabyab, undersecretary in the Philippine Department of Tourism. "We don't need the whole world to come to the Philippines—just like an air-conditioned bus, we can only hold so much."
The Philippine Department of Tourism will also concentrate on developing the central region, which officials believe has the greatest potential for growth in the country. The Central Philippines includes such key tourist destinations as Cebu, Boracay, Negros Oriental, Bicol and Palawan.
Vietnam, meanwhile, is targeting tourists from the U.S. in the year to come. American tourist arrivals in Vietnam totaled more than 410,000 in 2007, making the U.S. the third largest market for Vietnam. The country will also be promoting the Mekong Delta region through a new campaign, "Visit Can Tho Year 2008." Can Tho City is a major destination in the Mekong Delta with abundant appeal for tourists, including floating markets and small river villages.
A Singapore media briefing at the Bangkok conference showcased special events and hotel development. Ten hotels, with a combined 1,700 rooms, are slated to open in Singapore in 2008. Singapore will beat the drum heavily for the 2008 Formula One SingTel Singapore Grand Prix, to be held September 28. This will be Asia's first street race, and the first night race in Formula One history.
Laos posted an impressive 11 percent growth in its visitor arrivals last year, but the country acknowledged hurdles ahead in growing its tourism, due to lack of hotel rooms and airline capacity. The northern city of Luang is especially booming, with its inbound tourism increasing 32 percent through October 2007.
Cambodia is hoping to implement a law in the second quarter of 2008 that will allow overseas investors to hold 100 percent of a company's registered capital. It's predicted that the new law could increase tourism investment by 30 percent and improve the quality of tourism facilities in the country.
The 2008 ASEAN Tourism Forum attracted the largest turnout in the event's 10-year history, with 627 buyers (40 from the U.S.) and 446 sellers. Next year's forum will be held in Vietnam: The Travel Exchange portion takes place January 10-12 in Hanoi, with the complete official program spanning January 5-12.