Reviving ASEAN tourism

Azlan Othman

Due to an abundance of low-cost connectivity and an increased preference for travel closer to home, the intra-regional tourism will play a key role in revitalising ASEAN member countries’ tourism economies, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

GlobalData’s latest report, ‘Tourism Destination Market Insight- ASEAN (2021)’, reveals that in 2019, 44.3 million tourists travelled between the ASEAN member countries. The intra-ASEAN travel is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of five per cent from 2019 to 2024 and reach 56.6 million by 2024.

Given the high level of growth, intra-regional travel could be key to the region’s recovery from the impact of COVID-19. The virus caused a 36.9 per cent year-over-year decrease in intra-regional travel in 2020 to a low of 27.9 million arrivals.

Travel and Tourism Analyst at GlobalData Gus Gardner commented, “In 2019, intra-regional travel accounted for a total of 32.3 per cent of all travellers, showing the importance of regional links. With depleted budgets and COVID-19 fatigue setting in, travellers will be keen to travel and are more likely to select destinations closer to home. With the provision of relaxed visa policies between the member states, the barriers to travel are low and will help increase the intra-regional flows post-COVID-19.”

The ratification of the ASEAN single aviation market agreement has increased the level of competition and accessibility of intra-regional flights, much to the delight of travellers.

To ensure continuity in the tourism sector, the Tourism Development Department has collaborated with stakeholders to promote domestic tourism. PHOTO: LAW HIENG HING

Gardner said, “The market has become saturated with low-cost airline connectivity due to the market liberalisation that has occurred. The low fares and high route frequency offered by these carriers has created a vast connected network across the region, reduced fares, and made travel more affordable.

“With personal financial concerns growing due to COVID-19, the availability and affordability of flights will be vital to stimulating tourism flows in the near future.

“Even after accounting for the impact of COVID-19, intra-regional travel is forecast to achieve a healthy growth rate. Given the cultural similarities and strict measures to tackle the virus, destinations within the region are likely to increase in popularity. This type of travel will provide the much-needed revenues for travel firms and could play an important role in revitalising the tourism economy before the travellers begin travelling further abroad again.”

Meanwhile, under the country’s 11th National Development Plan, BND49.9 million has been allocated for various projects, including BND1.5 million for the tourism industry and tourism products empowerment in the Sultanate.

In the tourism sector, total tourist arrivals via air to the country decreased from 333,240 in 2019 to around 62,000 in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. To ensure continuity in the tourism sector, the Tourism Development Department has collaborated with stakeholders to promote domestic tourism and local food promotions in all districts.

With a mission towards sustainable growth in the number of tourists coming to Brunei Darussalam that could contribute greatly to the country’s economy, various efforts and initiatives have been undertaken by the Tourism Development Department at the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) as well as travel and tour companies.

Despite the significant efforts to boost the industry, the outbreak of COVID-19 has badly impacted the tourism industry, not only in Brunei Darussalam but also the world.

In 2020, the tourism industry was expected to face a decline of over 70 per cent as the world battled the pandemic while thinking of ways in finding the remedies.

Tourism suffered further after the announcement of travel bans and restrictions aimed to address the pandemic spread, though it eventually contributed towards economic downturn in all services offered in tourism sectors.

At the beginning of the pandemic outbreak, with the announcement of travel ban, limiting the movement of people travelling abroad or not allowing tourists to come into the Sultanate except for essential travel further affected the economy in tourism sectors. This saw stagnation and further declining of income especially when the country was at the height of its local cases from March to May 2020.

Many of those in the tourism sector, especially travel agents, suffered as many tour packages were cancelled and tourism activities were halted. This situation left them with no option but to wait and hope that the global pandemic will be over soon enough.

However, the gloomy scene started to give way to light at the end of the tunnel as positive local cases have not been recorded since May 2020. With this encouraging development, the local tourism industry started to gain fresh new hope and proceeded to put on several initiatives and efforts to boost the tourism industry, by promoting staycation activities and local-based activities that focus on domestic tourism.