The World Tourism Organisation has stated that tourism is a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) accelerator in three areas: provision of decent work and economic growth (SDG 8); responsible consumption and production (SDG 12); and partnerships for the goals (SDG 17).
East Asia has historically been the region's best performer in terms of number of arrivals, led by Japan. This sub-region offers strong safety and health conditions, world-class and ICT-ready infrastructure, and promotions that leverage on their natural and cultural resources.
According to Mastercard’s ‘Global Top 20 destination cities by international overnight visitors (2018)’, Asian cities took 10 spots: Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Seoul, Osaka, Phuket, Pattaya, Bali and Hong Kong.
Beyond safety and good infrastructure, what also makes Asia attractive is its eclectic mix of modern and traditional, and exotic and mystical elements, together with low costs and sunny weather. Tourists can enjoy modern facilities in the advanced cities and when venturing further into the inner hinterland or islands, can savour the slower paced traditional environment, night markets, food and local culture. There are also themed locations such as medical, shopping, spiritual retreats and gambling tourism spots.
No wonder tourist arrivals in the Asia-Pacific region grew by 7% in 2018 to 345 million during the January to June 2018 period. This is about one-quarter of the world’s total and ahead of other regions.
Asia-Pacific’s 7% was also the highest growth across world regions. Results were driven by south-east Asia (with growth of 9%), particularly Vietnam. Indonesia had a double-digit increase in arrivals during this period, due to an ongoing increase in arrivals from China and India as well as better air connectivity. Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines all recorded double-digit growth, attributed to increasing amounts of Chinese visitors.
Naturally, there will be short-term challenges such as protest strikes, political sabre-rattling between countries and terrorist attacks (unless these deteriorate into unresolved chronic conditions). What will sustain Asia’s attractiveness would be the maintenance of basic infrastructure and the upgrading of high-end facilities. An example is Singapore’s revamping of its world-class Changi Airport with the addition of Jewel, a nature-themed entertainment and retail complex. Popular social media such as Instagram can also help inspire new locations and spread travel trends.
It will be an ongoing leapfrogging race to enhance Asia’s tourism development – where winners win until they are dethroned and battle to be re-enthroned again – as competition from other world regions for tourism spending intensifies.
Lawrence Yeo is founder and principal consultant of AsiaBIZ Strategy, a Singapore-based management consulting firm providing Asia market research, business strategy development and export/FDI promotion services.