Even as most countries in Asia Pacific keep their borders closed to foreign arrivals, key travel industry players believe that intra-ASEAN travel will be the key to unlocking tourism’s survival, in a webinar organised by the Federation of ASEAN Travel Associations (FATA) on Friday (19 June).
“Due to the new normal, travellers will look for shorter-haul places within one to three hours’ travel time, so intra-ASEAN offers this opportunity,” said Wachira Wichaiwatana, vice president of Thailand Travel Agents Association.
Agreeing with her was Datuk Dr Noor Zari Hamat, secretary-general, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Malaysia, who said: “In 2019, inter-ASEAN travel contributed more than 40% of travel in the region, which signifies great importance to the survival and sustainability of ASEAN’s tourism industry.”
Despite the lack of a specific or indicative date for regional travel to resume, he believes there are fruitful ways to make use of the current downtime.
He said: “ASEAN member states should work towards restoring mobility and designing health protocols by considering the entire tourism value chain including travel agencies, attractions and theme parks. While the technicalities are being developed by various sectoral bodies, NTOs should move towards strengthening partnerships with the private sector to stimulate tourism demand through strategic marketing via digital platforms.”
Similarly, National Association of Travel Agents Singapore's president Steven Ler believes that collaboration and communication are key to boosting the confidence of consumers to kickstart tourism.
“From social media listening over the past few weeks, we see that there is a pent-up demand for travel, but customers’ top concern is still safety and hygiene,” he remarked. “As ASEAN members, we have to work hand in hand to inform our citizens, be it through videos or other ways of sharing, where they can consider travelling to safely, when the time is right.”
His sentiment was shared by Benito C. Bengzon Jr, undersecretary for tourism development, Philippines Department of Tourism (DOT), who said: “ASEAN members will have to agree to gradually but steadily lift travel restrictions, in addition to launching a campaign to inform consumers of the new measures and restore their confidence.”
To promote intra-ASEAN travel, Bengzon Jr revealed that the DOT has been coordinating with local government units to identify safe destinations within Philippines that would be suitable for forming “green corridors” with neighbouring countries.