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ATF 2019 in Ha Long City called the spirit of peace and unity

Under the theme “ASEAN – The Power of One” the 38th edition of the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) was successfully held at Ha Long City, Viet Nam, during 14-18 January 2019. Some 1,500 delegates, including 145 international and local media, convened at the Quang Ninh Exhibition of Planning and Expo Center (QNEPEC) for TRAVEX, while the ASEAN Tourism Conference, ATF 2019 Opening Ceremony, Tourism Ministers Press Conference and ATF 2019 Closing Ceremony were organized at the FLC Ha Long Bay Resort. Arriving on January 14 in the late afternoon from Ha Noi, I stayed for 5 nights at the Saigon Ha Long Hotel at Bay Chai Tourist Area and could discover a little bit of the Ha Long Sun World Park and the surrounding neighborhood.

On January 15, there was a complimentary Pre-Show Half Day Cruise at the scenic Ha Long Bay and also a complementary Pre-Show Half Day Tour to Yen Tu Mountain for all delegates. I opted for the cruise with Paradise Cruises from Tuan Chau International Marina to visit the Hang Dau Go Cave. The limestone cave is one of the highlights to see stalactites and stalagmites of highest aesthetic and geological values. Ha Long Bay itself covers an area with 1,969 islands to make it comparable to the death year of Ho Chi Minh and it was declared as a Natural World Heritage by UNESCO in 1994. We also passed a myriad of islands in varies sizes emerging from the seawater shaped and sculptured by wind and water over millions of years such as the Incense Burner Islet and Fighting Cock Islet. In the evening, a brilliant Saigon Night was offered for international media on the Princess Cruise Ship anchored at Bai Chay Ward to showcase “Vibrant Ho Chi Minh City” with its culinary delights, music and arts performances. With compliments from the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Tourism, international media was invited to the largest and most established International Travel Expo (ITE) in Viet Nam and the Mekong Sub-region to be held on 5-7 September 2019 at the Saigon Exhibition & Convention Center in Ho Chi Minh City. Very entertaining was a special “Ao Dai” Show.

In the morning of January 16, there was the ASEAN Tourism Conference on “Connecting heritages for ASEAN tourism development in digital age” with presentations by Mr. Peter DeBrine on sustainable tourism, Mr. Seul Ki Lee on digital technology and connectivity as well as Mr. Con Apostolopoulos on smart technologies and creative tourism. Representatives from Viet Nam, Myanmar and Lao PDR gave their experiences in heritage tourism developments. The wrap up was done by Dr. Ha Van Sieu, Vice Chairman of Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), while at the end of the conference Mr. Jens Thraenhart, Director of the Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) in Bangkok, announced the prize winners of the first annual Mekong Mini Movie Festival and called for more public participation in this year’s second one to come to promote the six countries of the Greater Mekong-Sub-region (GMS), namely Cambodia, China (Yunnan and Guangxi), Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.

After lunch, there started the first of the altogether 11 media briefings, which gave only a short time to follow other interest in Ha Long City such as visiting the 3-storey Quang Ninh Museum-Library in Hon Gai, which was built inspired by coal with black tempered glass. It displays important natural, historical and cultural objects not to be missed.

The first media briefing was given by Viet Nam and proved a total of 15.5 million tourist arrivals in 2018 coming by air, road and sea, mostly from Asia, Europe and Americas – an increase of 20% compared to 2017. The biggest markets are China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and USA, followed by Russia and Malaysia. For 2019 Viet Nam will expect 18 million tourists to its increasing popular destinations such as Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang and Ha Noi with city breaks. There will be announced soon the upcoming Visit Nha Trang – Khanh Hoa Year 2019. Moreover, Viet Nam becomes the kitchen of the world, while Vietnam Airlines boasts some 400 flights a day connecting to Paris, Frankfurt and London. As marketing plan for 2019, VNTA keeps its logo “Vietnam Timeless Charm” and intends to promote Viet Nam’s boundless mountainous and coastal assets such as Sapa, Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Da Lat and Phu Quoc Island among others. Mr. Duc from Ha Noi as VNTA marketing manager is banking on smart tourism. Van Don International Airport is some 50 km from Ha Long City.

The second media briefing was done by Brunei, where the Tourism Development Department revealed its new branding with the logo “Brunei Abode of Peace” leaving a kingdom of unexpected treasures behind. Tourist arrivals of 205,129 by air were counted until September 2018 – making it a 4.5% increase to 2017. The biggest markets are China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore. Brunei counts on gastronomy tourism and will expect some 300,000 tourist arrivals in 2019. Brunei starts to promote ATF 2020 under the theme “Together towards a Next Generation of Travel” to be held at Bandar Seri Begawan. Tourist highlights in Brunei are the natural wonders of Ulu Temburong Rainforest, the floating village of Kampong Ayer, the authentic local Gadong Night Market, the architectural beauty of the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, and Brunei’s Arts and Handicraft Center. Actually, Brunei hosted the Brunei Night reception in the Wyndham Legend Ha Long Hotel at Bai Chay Ward, Ha Long City, on January 17.

The day ended with the ATF 2019 opening ceremony held by H.E. Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Thien, Minister for Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. The opening of ATF 2019 was signaled by “gong-beating” and accompanied by dance performances and a welcome dinner.

January 17 saw the media briefings of Thailand, Malaysia and Myanmar in the morning and the media briefings of the Philippines, ASEAN and Singapore after lunch in the afternoon. Khun Chattan Kunjara Na Ayutthaya, TAT Deputy Governor for International Marketing Asia & Pacific, confirmed that the world-class destination under sustainability has reached some 38 million tourist arrivals in 2018 and will head to 41-42 millions in 2019. Keeping the successful logo of “Amazing Thailand” the Kingdom of Thailand had some 10 million visitors from China alone and one million from Viet Nam. Next to the capital Bangkok and the three hubs of Khon Kaen, Chiang Mai and Phuket, Thailand will develop 55 secondary destinations to divide the flow of tourists to come.

Such secondary destinations are Nan, Buriram, Chumphon, Trat (Tier 1), Chiang Rai, Nakhon Phanom, Satun (Tier 2), as well as Phrae, Kalasin and Sukhothai (Tier 3) among others. Shopping sites of Bangkok’s ICONSIAM and King Power Maha Nakhon with a 340 m high sky walk came up, while rail roads will be promoted to connect the three international airports of Don Muang, Suvarnabhumi and U-Tapao. Festivals and sports events are happening all year round. Highly recommended is to read the booklet “Experience Thailand & More” to see that people make Thailand tick, while “pad thai”- dishes are getting more popular everywhere. New e-visa starting in February will attract more and more tourists from China and India, followed later from the UK and France. Well Hotel Bangkok Sukhumvit 20 gives a warm welcome well-worth the value.

With a focus on Chinese and Indian visitors, Tourism Malaysia with its logo “Malaysia Truly Asia” will start to increase its stagnating tourist arrivals. So far there were 19.39 million visitor arrivals counted until September 2018. The top eight markets are Singapore, Indonesia, China, Brunei, Thailand, South Korea, India and the Philippines. 67 airlines fly to Malaysia. Promoted will be golf tourism in Johor in 2019 and a working Malaysia-China co-operation for 2019-20. Datuk Musa Yusof, Director General of Tourism Malaysia, underlined the engagement with digital technology and penetration into the filming industry. The Visit Sarawak and Visit Melaka campaigns were highlighted as well new hotel products such as Desaru Coast, Moevenpick Hotel & Convention Center KLIA, Alila Dalit Bay, Sabah, and the world’s first Monopoly Hotel. Moreover, there were published 69 multi-countries travel packages to promote ASEAN as a single destination – not to forget the exotic ethnic heritage of Malaysia.

The media briefing of Myanmar was done by Mr. Hla Myint, Director of the International and Regional Co-operation Department, Ministry of Hotels & Tourism. The total of visitor arrivals in 2018 was given as 3,551,428 including borders, while a sub-total of 1,335,098 was given for coming as real tourists, supported by China and Thailand. Other markets are Japan, South Korea and Singapore. 127 caravan tours were conducted with 1,602 participants. Borders checkpoints were 4 with Thailand, 2 with India, 5 with China and 1 with Lao PDR. Other numbers to know that there are 1,704 hotels, 3,265 tour operators and 8,218 tour guides, but the political situation in Myanmar shows a steady decline of visitor arrivals. Investors are Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. Business visas are valid for 70 days and cost USD50, while a tourist visa is for 30 days and costs USD40. Actually, Japanese, South Korean, Hong Kong and Macau tourists will be granted visa-free entry, while Chinese and Indian tourists get granted visa-on-arrival in a move to attract more Asian tourists into the country. 29 international airlines fly to Myanmar, while there are only 6 domestic airlines left at the moment. A question of a journalist, why Myanmar is mentioned as the forth dangerous country for tourists after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea was not taken seriously, as Myanmar seems to be one of the safest countries in the world for tourists to come.

The Philippines media briefing was dominated by representatives of Philippine Airlines introducing a Hanoi-Manila flight as low as USD180 roundtrip economy base fare starting on 1 April, but there is “More Fun in the Philippines” according to James A. Sy, Officer-in Charge, ASEAN and Pacific Division, International Promotions Department.

The newly counted 7,641 islands comprising the Philippines are located between Taiwan in the north and Indonesia in the south. Filipino is based on Tagalog and there are eight major groups for ethnologists to concern. Highlighted as important tourist destinations are the Banaue Rice Terraces, Ifugao Province, Cordillera, then Boracay Island, Davao in Mindanao, the Chocolate Hills in Bohol, the historical city center of Cebu, the mega capital of Manila, the island of Palawan and last and not least Vigan – Old World City. There were 6,480,297 million international visitor arrivals in 2017, but reached some 7.1 millions in 2018. The biggest markets are South Korea, China, USA, Japan, Australia, Taiwan and Canada. In Manila famous hotel brands of Westin, Mercure, Moevenpick, Sheraton and Hilton opened, while new hotels in 2019 will be Novotel and Best Western. For 2020 a Mandarin Oriental will open. New convention centers are in Cebu and Clark, while new airports will be in Cebu/Bohol, New Manila International Airport and in Zamboanga on Mindanao. A video showed the Wonders of the Philippines. Furthermore, the only late night function was held by the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) Philippines in the elegant Muong Thanh Luxury Quang Ninh Hotel at Bai Chay Ward in the evening, when many participants had to go home by taxi.

The ASEAN Media Briefing was given by representative of the Office in Jakarta/Indonesia and by Khun Chattan from Thailand, as Thailand holds the chair of the 10 member countries in 2019. Mentioned were the ASEAN Tourism Strategy Plan (ATSP) 2016-2025 and the ASEAN Tourism Marketing Strategy (ATMS) 2017-2020. While each member state will continue to promote their own country, the 10 member states will also work together to promote Southeast Asia as a single destination. Targeted geographic segments next to ASEAN countries are China, Japan, Korea, India, Europe, USA, Australia, and the Middle East, while important themes are culinary, wellness, culture & heritage, and nature & adventure. Marketing activities of 2018 were given as well as the plan for 2019 to raise awareness of the diversity of the ASEAN region through digital channels and partnerships. Also, the ASEAN Tourism website www.aseantourism.travel must be revamped to make it more consumer-friendly. Actually, there has been a strong perception of ASEAN as a political entity, so that there are both the so-called ASEAN emblem and the ASEAN tourism logo “Southeast Asia feel the warmth” next to a ten radiating flame.

The media briefing by representatives of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) gave the number of visitor arrivals between 17.6 and 18.3 million coming to Singapore in 2018 with the biggest markets of China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia and Australia. Astonishing is the average hotel occupancy of 86.5 %. The new logo is called “Passion Made Possible” and focuses on social media, what was shown in a video. Singapore was compared with Yangon in Myanmar on one side and with the Philippine island world on the other side. Merli – The Merlion is used as tourist mascot. Actually, the year 2019 is Singapore’s Bicentennial and will be celebrated accordingly with Raffles disappearing, Jewel at Changi Airport, Design of Orchard Road, and the World’s 50 best restaurants and bars. Must see is the enduring spectacle of Gardens of the Bay and its nightly light bonanzas, while must eat in Singapore are the local dishes of chili crab and Hainanese chicken rice. Very important for Singapore is the development of the lucrative MICE industry.

January 18 was the last day of TRAVEX, where 315 buyers and 289 exhibitors’ booths were participating. In the morning were the last three media briefings of Indonesia, Cambodia and Lao PDR, while after a lunch in the simple Huong Bien Hotel there was the long-awaited Tourism Ministers Press Conference and finally, after a gala dinner hosted by the organizing committee of Visit Viet Nam Year 2018 Ha Long – Quang Ninh, the ATF 2019 Closing Ceremony was held.

The media briefing of Indonesia was given by Edy Wardaya of the Ministry of Tourism (Republic of Indonesia) and he went straight into the heart of wonders with the help of the industries of agriculture, tourism and fisheries. Actually, there were 14.39 million visitor arrivals counted until November 2018, while in 2019 Indonesia will expect some 20 million visitors. “10 New Bali” will be developed starting at Lake Toba in Sumatra and via Borobudur in Java ending somewhere in West Papua. The city state of Singapore is seen as the important hub to the Island World of Indonesia, which experienced a lot of natural disasters during earthquakes in Lombok as well as the recent Krakatau tsunami. High priority was given to the Tourism Crisis Management and the organizing of an adequate emergency response, a quick rehabilitation and solid recovery phase. With the successful logo “Wonderful Indonesia” the country will not fail to attract more and more tourists in the future. The Jayakarta Hotels & Resorts and the Santika Indonesia Hotels & Resorts are very popular, while the Bali Garden Beach Resort is a new product.

The media briefing of Cambodia was given by Mr. Prak Vuthy from the Ministry of Tourism, which is headed by the popular tourism minister Dr. Thong Khon. Under the logo “Kingdom of Wonder feel the warmth” Cambodia attracted some 4.8 million by October 2018 and reached 6.2 million tourist arrivals in 2018. The five big markets are China, Viet Nam, Lao PDR, Thailand and South Korea. Digital marketing is the key for a bright future and there will be upcoming festivals such as the Kampong Chhnang River Festival, International Yoga Day, and the next Sea Festival at Kampot. Highly promoted is the Cambodia Travel Mart (CTM), which will be held during 10-13 October 2019 in the booming capital Phnom Penh. Besides, ATF 2021 will be in Phnom Penh too. Connectivity is good with 6 border checkpoints with Thailand, 1 with Lao PDR and 9 with Viet Nam. New airlines are Cambodia Airways, Garuda Indonesia and Philippine Airlines. New tourism products are the Angkor Paradise Hotel in Siem Reap and the Royal Sands Koh Rong Resort in Sihanoukville, while facilities for self-driving are much improved. A visa-on-arrival is normal and e-visas will be developed.

The media briefing of Lao PDR was given by Mrs. Sengsoda from the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. With the logo “Laos Simply Beautiful” a video was shown to promote natural and cultural site such as Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane, Champasak, Xieng Khuang, Luang Namtha, and Khammouane. There are altogether 26 border checkpoints, from which 22 ones are with visa-on-arrival. 9 ASEAN countries are visa-free and there are even visa exemptions for Scandinavian countries and some others. 6 border checkpoints are with Thailand, 2 with China, 8 with Viet Nam and 1 with Cambodia.

Tourist arrivals are declining and there were only 2,918,673 international tourists counted until September 2018, which was the official Visit Laos Year. The top five markets are Thailand, Viet Nam, China, South Korea, and USA. With the announcement of China-Laos Year 2019, Laos expects to attract 5 million tourists in 2019. A valuable publication is the list of important travel events to come, including a German Beer Festival in October. A new tourism product is the Pullman Luang Prabang Hotel, while 2021 is set for the opening of the speed train from Kunming in China’s Yunnan to Vientiane and then into Thailand.

The Tourism Ministers Press Conference was held by H.E. Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Thien (Viet Nam) and included joint media statements of the 7th Meeting of ASEAN-India Tourism Ministers, the 22nd Meeting of ASEAN Tourism Ministers as well as the 18th Meeting of ASEAN plus Three (China, Japan and Republic of Korea) Tourism Ministers.

At the well-prepared ATF Closing Ceremony there was a gala celebrating the success of ATF 2019 and Visit Viet Nam Year 2018 Ha Long – Quang Ninh, where the soul of peace and unity was called and colorful dances were performed. Also, the National Tourism Flag for Khanh Hoa Province was awarded. All delegates could feel the warmth of ASEAN or Southeast Asia, though it was cold outside, and all the delegates were then driven back to their respective hotels. On 19 and 20 January 2019, some of the delegates had registered for the optional 2 days/1 night Post Show Tour to Ninh Binh, where the dry Ha Long Bay is located. All in all, ATF 2019 was more than a success and also was a very romantic experience.

Written by : Reinhard Hohler

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