The annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Asian Tourism Forum (ATF), is set to take place this month in Vietnam, where diplomats, tourism delegates, and media from the ten member nations – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – will meet to discuss the future of travel within the region.
Started in 1981, this will be the 38th year of the conference. This year’s theme is “The Power of One,” highlighting ASEAN’s desire to work together as a region to responsibly develop and foster tourism.
“ATF 2019 is all about embracing strength in unity,” said H.E. Nguyen Ngọc Thien, the
Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Vietnam. “Tourism is a common driving force across Member States, positively contributing to the region’s socio-economic development. With the push towards increasing intra-ASEAN travels, in addition to international inbound arrivals into the region, the opportunities for business, cultural exchanges and understanding within the region must heighten in tandem with the rest of the world. Together, ASEAN Member States can build a stronger and more powerful position on the world stage with meaningful initiatives that boost tourism growth while preserving our unique and collective heritage, identity and culture for the next generation to experience.”
Top destinations in Vietnam to be featured at this year’s ATF include Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Ha Long Bay, Sapa, and Hoi An, among others.
Here’s a look at some of the news from previous ATFs. Stay tuned for more stories later this month.
Singapore: One of the country’s largest projects is a hi-speed railway link to Kuala Lumpur, with an aim to eventually extend it through Thailand to Kunming, China. While that plan develops, things remain busy on the homefront. It has celebrated a number of openings in recent years, including the National Gallery, the Pinacotheque de Paris Art Museum, and the Chinatown street market.
Malaysia: One of the country’s biggest draws continues to be the Rainforest World Music Festival, which you can read about here.
Myanmar: Myanmar tourism continues to grow at a quick rate, breaking three million visitors in 2014 after welcoming only one million in 2012. The country is working to improve transit, road conditions, and flight options to make things smoother on the ground. Yangon, Lake Inle, Mandalay, and Bagan are currently the main attractions, but as the country continues to open up, other regions will no doubt catch on. One area in particular is the Chin State, which dropped its strict entry requirements this year.
Brunei: Brunei’s quest to draw curiosity from western travelers to Borneo is reflected by its complete overhaul and expansion of its international airport. While only 10,000 or so Americans visit Brunei each year, it is rich in rainforest and mountain terrain that could be very attractive to adventure travelers. It is also working to promote itself as a dive destination thanks to an abundance of mint-condition shipwrecks.
Vietnam: The popular yet hard-to-reach Northern Highlands of Vietnam are now more accessible thanks to a new road from Hanoi to Sapa that halves the travel time between Hanoi and Lao Cai to only 3.5 hours.
Thailand: At the moment, westerns typically stick to Bangkok and the southern beaches, but those seeking an experience outside of the party tourist track should look into Loei in the north and Buri Ram in the east.
Philippines: The Philippines is unique in that it is the only Southeast Asian country were Americans make up a large bulk of its tourists. As a result, Philippine Airlines has ramped up its connections, including a direct flight from New York (JFK) to Manila.
Indonesia: Cruises of Indonesia’s huge archipelago are beginning to become more popular, exposing the country’s beautiful coastline outside of Bali, the only destination Americans are familiar with. Indonesia’s presence on Borneo is often also overshadowed by Bali, making it perhaps one of the deepest country’s in Southeast Asia when it comes to the number of nooks and crannies to be discovered.
Laos: The big news out of Laos is its commitment to improving the roads and transportation infrastructure, allowing tourists to move easily throughout the country without flying. That said, it is also upgrading all four of its international airports – Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse and Savannakhet. Luang Prabang continues to be one of the main draws for western travelers, and Laos is hoping that places like Vang Vieng and Vientiane are next to catch on.
Cambodia: Cambodia has discussed building a new road to Angkor Wat, but talks have been tabled for the time being. The thought is that it would increase the number of day trips and cut down on overnight stays at Angkor Wat, weakening the economy and potentially degrading the ruins. “Overnight stays at Angkor Wat are very good for tourism and local economy,” Dr. Thong Khon, the tourism minister, said. “We’ll have to consider the effects and impacts of such a project.”