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2:25pm 26/11/2023
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Countries battle it out for tourism supremacy in Asia
By:The Nation / ANN

BANGKOK: The year 2019 was often considered the “golden year” for global tourism, with international visitors to the Asia-Pacific region reaching 360.7 million people, representing a 4.1% increase over 2018.

Back then, the top 10 destinations in the region with the highest number of visitors were as follows:

China: 65.7 million visitors
Thailand: 39.8 million visitors
Japan: 32.2 million visitors
Malaysia: 26.1 million visitors
Hong Kong: 23.8 million visitors
Macau: 18.6 million visitors
Vietnam: 18 million visitors
India: 17.9 million visitors
South Korea: 17.5 million visitors
Indonesia: 15.5 million visitors

Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck and numbers plummeted. With recovery now seemingly well on track, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand have all set strategies to win visitors.

Here, we look at their strengths in the competition for tourism dominance in Asia.

Japan

After the disappointment of not being able to host the 2020 Olympic Games due to the pandemic, which resulted in a missed opportunity to attract 40 million international tourists, the country began anew by reopening its borders to foreign tourists on October 11, 2022.

Statistics for the first nine months of this year reveal that the cumulative number of foreign tourists entering Japan reached 17,374,300, a 71.2% recovery compared to the same period in 2019, according to a report from the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO).

South Korean tourists topped the list with 4,894,800 visitors, a 99% recovery compared to 2019.

Taiwan secured the second spot with 2,974,600 visitors, recovering 80%.

China ranked third with 1,597,800 visitors, recovering only 22%. Hong Kong followed in fourth place with 1,483,600 visitors, recovering 90%.

The US came in fifth with 1,466,100 visitors, showing a 15% growth.

Thailand secured the sixth spot with 631,100 visitors, recovering 73%. Nonetheless, Thailand maintained its position as the leading tourist market from the ASEAN region, sending the highest number of travellers to Japan.

Charoen Wangananont, president of the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA), notes that Japan’s tourism sector has consistently shown a strong recovery.

He attributes this to the weakened yen (as of this month, 100 yen comes in at around 23-24 baht) and Japan’s diverse tourism destinations that draw visitors to every province.

Promoting tourism in secondary cities is also easier in Japan compared to Thailand, as the country has an extensive railway network covering the entire nation.

Simultaneously, Japan maintains a reputation for high safety, instilling confidence in international tourists.

Furthermore, Japan’s tourism promotion agencies have a clear strategy to attract tourists from the ASEAN market, leading them to implement measures such as visa-free travel to Japan.

They seem to have had some success too: in the first 9 months of this year, more than 439,000 Vietnamese tourists travelled to Japan, a growth of 17% compared to the same period in the previous year.

South Korea

To attract the maximum number of tourists to South Korea, 2023-2024 has been designated as the “Year of Visiting Korea”, and a campaign titled “100 Korean Tourism Activities” has been organised to connect visitors with Korean culture.

One of the key strategies is to expand the tourist base from the ASEAN market, says James Lee, vice chairman of the Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO).

Additionally, the Koreans are promoting “Smart Tourism”, which provides tourists with convenient services through mobile applications.

“Our goal for 2023 is to have 10 million international tourists visit South Korea, and in 2024, we expect the situation to fully recover to pre-Covid levels, with 17.5 million tourists annually,” Lee stated.

Another important strategy is the global influence of Korea’s soft power and several campaigns have already been launched to leverage the cultural impact of “K-Culture”.

Vietnam

Vietnam, another rising star, refuses to be overshadowed.

Before the COVID-19 era, it experienced remarkable and robust growth.

Presently, it is emphasising its natural resources and boasts “man-made attractions” that effectively capture interest.

With a reasonable cost of living, it stands as a strong contender in the competition for Thai tourists.

In 2023, the Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board predicts that the number of international tourists may well exceed 12-13 million.

Statistics collected by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) show that in the first 10 months of 2023, Vietnam welcomed over 9,997,928 international tourists.

South Korea took the top spot with 2,906,011 visitors, followed by China with 1,306,942, Taiwan with 666,629, the US with 598,933, Japan with 468,732, and Thailand with 391,822.

Thailand

The Thai government has elevated tourism to a key economic driver, aiming to generate quick income.

Thapanee Kiatphaibool, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), says Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has requested an increase in total tourism revenue for 2024 to 3.5 trillion baht, up from the current target of 3 trillion baht.

This adjustment, equivalent to a 100% recovery compared to the pre-Covid year of 2019, is intended to boost revenue from foreign markets.

After analysing the revenue distribution between domestic and international markets, TAT concluded that they need to generate 2.5 trillion baht from international markets in 2024, an additional 500 billion baht over the current target.

This is to be achieved by attracting a minimum of 35 million international tourists.

The aim is to reach the target of 3 trillion baht in international market revenue by 2025, in line with the policy of Tourism and Sports Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol.

For 2023, TAT continues to target total tourism revenue of 2.38 trillion baht, representing an 80% recovery over 2019.

The target is based on an expected 25-28 million international tourists generating 1.6 trillion baht and 200 million Thai tourists contributing 800 billion baht.

In the first 10 months of 2023, Thailand welcomed a cumulative total of 21,882,227 international visitors, generating revenue of 963.142 billion baht.

The top five countries contributing to international arrivals were Malaysia (3,342,819), China (2,778,595), South Korea (1,313,781), India (1,283,340), and Russia (1,097,361).

The TAT has initiated what it is calling a “PASS” strategy to promote tourism in 2024, consisting of:

1. Partnership 360: joining forces with partners both inside and outside the tourism industry.

2. Accelerate Access to the Digital World: developing the organisation based on data-driven marketing and digital technology.

3. Sub-Culture Movement: Delving into the dynamics of sub-cultures. Despite Thailand being a major tourism powerhouse, global competition for tourists is intense. Therefore, TAT aims to continue market segmentation by targeting both mainstream and niche interest groups. Tapping into the preferences of specific sub-cultures will be crucial.

4. Sustainably NOW: immediate efforts toward sustainable tourism.

From the private sector perspective, Tassapon Bijleveld, CEO of Thai AirAsia and president of the Thai Airline Association, noted that one of the crucial matters requiring state intervention and promotion is to expedite investment in man-made attractions, such as amusement parks like Disneyland or Universal Studios in the Northeastern region.

Only when natural tourist attractions that are painstakingly preserved are combined with man-made tourist attractions and investments in developing infrastructure to support tourism, can the market for international tourists be fully optimised, he said.

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