Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

26 Jan, 2009

ASEAN Cross-Border Travel To Boom

Faced with the ongoing international financial crunch and a projected flattening of arrivals from long-haul international markets, ASEAN national tourism organisations are set to give a long-overdue boost to cross-border and intra-ASEAN travel, according to presentations made at the ASEAN Tourism Forum in Hanoi earlier this month.

ASEAN countries have long been their own best source-markets. This status is set to gather steam as national airlines cut capacity on long-haul routes, low-cost airlines link more regional and secondary cities, and better highway linkages facilitate overland traffic. Although implemented selectively, ASEAN’s reciprocal visa-free agreement is of additional help.

ASEAN’s giant neighbour to the north, China, is another plus point. It is already the largest source of visitor arrivals to Vietnam, largely due to the increasing numbers crossing overland. Neighbouring Burma is also following the same policy, opening up access to Chinese visitors through its six checkpoints in northern Burma.

All around ASEAN, there is mounting evidence of the importance of cross-border and intra-ASEAN travel, which should augur well for the economic, social and cultural integration plans expected to be taken forward at next month’s ASEAN summit in Bangkok. For example:

<> Malaysia registered 22.05 million tourists in 2008, up 5.1% over 2007. Singapore was the largest source market, contributing 49.9% of total arrivals, followed by Indonesia (11.0%), Thailand (6.8%), Brunei (4.9%).

<> Vietnam received 4,253,740 visitor arrivals in 2008, up only 0.6% over 2007, due to the numerous problems faced last year, including the floods in Central Vietnam. Of this total, 813,305 arrivals were overland border crossers, mainly with China, which was Vietnam’s top market in 2008, generating 650,055 arrivals (including air-arrivals).

<> Thailand has yet to report its full 2008 figures, but in 2007, Malaysia was the largest source-market with 10.7% of the total arrivals of 14.46 million. Thailand’s fastest-growing market overall was Laos which generated 521,062 arrivals in 2007, up a massive 84.62% over 2006.

<> Laos, ASEAN’s only member without a seaport, is planning to convert its perceived “landlocked” liability into a “land-linked” asset thanks to the borders it shares with Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, China and Vietnam. The Laotians reported that they had 19 international immigration checkpoints of which 16 issue visas on arrival. In addition, “we have visa-free agreements with eight ASEAN countries.”

In 2007, Thailand was the largest source of arrivals to Laos, generating 949,52 0 visitors out of a total arrivals count of 1.62 million. Rapidly rising Vietnam was next, with 290,584 arrivals, a huge growth over 190,442 in 2006.

<> Although Cambodia’s two largest sources of visitor arrivals are Korea and the United States, the two countries closing in rapidly are Vietnam and Thailand. Arrivals from Vietnam to Cambodia surged 61% over 2006 to hit 128,442 in 2007. From Thailand, arrivals were up 32% to 101,590 in the same period.

In its presentation, Cambodia highlighted its 16 international checkpoints, of which all but three are bordering Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

<> Indonesia’s biggest source of arrivals is Singapore, which generated 1.16 million arrivals in 2007 out of a total arrivals count of 5.5 million. Malaysia, which also has a shared border with Indonesia, was next with 799,990 arrivals.

In a move to reduce dependence on Bali, Indonesia is promoting the islands of Bintan and Batam which can be reached from Singapore by a one-hour ferry ride. Designation as a free-trade zone is leading to significant Singaporean investments in shipping and automotive industries. Hence, arrivals by sea comprised 41% of Indonesia’s total arrivals in 2007.

<> In turn, Singapore received 10.1 million arrivals in 2008 with the largest source market being Indonesia, with 1.7 million arrivals. Malaysia was the 5 th largest market with 650,000 arrivals.

<> Burma is also highlighting its cross-border connections. Of its total arrivals of 721,606 in 2008, a total of 530,939 came via border checkpoints with China and Thailand.

<> Brunei also generates a large majority of visitors from neighbouring Malaysia but does not keep an exact count due to continuing difficulties over processing the arrival forms.

In 2008, ASEAN national tourism organisations discovered that although cross-border and intra-regional travel is a major asset, they also need to reduce over-exposure to any one source-market, or a small group of source-markets.

Traffic to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was badly affected by the airport closures in Thailand last year. Traffic to Cambodia was also hit by the Khao Preah Viharn border dispute. In turn, visitor arrivals from Malaysia to Thailand have been affected by the instability in the southern provinces.

Nevertheless, Thailand is well positioned to reap the benefit of both the highways and railways network emerging region-wide. Cambodia, venue of the 2011 ASEAN Tourism Forum, is planning to host it in Siem Reap. By then, it is hoping to have the road links ready from the Thai border.

Vietnam is already planning to develop tourism along the Thailand-Laos-Vietnam highway network. Malaysia also announced that improving border processing formalities would be one of its policy goals in 2009.

Comments are closed.