BANGKOK, 8 May 2013: Le Luong Minh, the new ASEAN Secretary-General took office in January. His five-year tenure will include the birth of the ASEAN Economic Community. In this interview he gives a progress report on tourism integration in Southeast Asia.
How important is the role of tourism in ASEAN's development plans?
From 2004 to 2010, ASEAN has been working to achieve the goal of comprehensive regional integration where tourism has been identified as one of the twelve priority sectors. ASEAN Tourism, guided by the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan (ATSP) 2011-2015, has significant potential to become a major socio-economic driver for growth and a tool for development in the ASEAN region. In 2012, ASEAN received over 87 million international visitors, with intra-ASEAN travel as the major source market for ASEAN tourism with a share of 46%. With this promising outlook, tourism plays an important role as an instrument for the alleviation of poverty, improvement of people's quality of life and contributing greatly to economic and social development in ASEAN.
ASEAN is making progress on cross-border road transport cooperation. What would you like to see happen to further improve cross-border road transport within ASEAN?
The ASEAN Leaders adopted the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity in 2010 aimed at bringing about a comprehensive enhancement of physical infrastructure, institutional connectivity and people-to-people connectivity. Cross-border road transport is one of the key components of land transport. ASEAN is developing an ASEAN Framework Agreement on Cross Border Transport of Passengers (CBTP). The intention of this agreement is to facilitate cross border road transport of people between and among ASEAN member states through the simplification and harmonisation of such transport procedures and requirements. With the conclusion of the agreement, we would expect much more seamless land travel, which, at the end, will further develop tourism in the region. To further complete the ASEAN experience through land travel, the quality of roads within the region is important. ASEAN is currently completing the missing sections and improving road quality of the ASEAN Highway Network (AHN).
How important it is for each ASEAN country to promote simplified visa procedures to facilitate travel by non-ASEAN visitors?
Recognising that a single tourist visa could substantially benefit travel facilitation and tourism industry in the region, ASEAN member states continue to promote an ASEAN common visa. Significant progress was made by Thailand and Cambodia when they agreed to implement a single visa agreement. Since December 2012 non-ASEAN visitors just need to obtain one visa to visit both countries. Within the context of ACMECS, which is a sub-regional arrangement comprising Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam, the idea of a common tourist visa is also enjoying broad support. ASEAN is working on easing visa requirements for ASEAN nationals and foreign tourists through the full implementation of the 2006 ASEAN Framework Agreement for Visa Exemption. A study on an ASEAN common visa for non-ASEAN nationals is being carried out and a Joint Working Group on the ASEAN Common Visa is being established to identify challenges and opportunities and provide recommendations.
How confident are you that the Mutual Recognition Arrangement for Tourism Professionals will start to deliver results?
The signing of the ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) on Tourism Professionals by Thailand on 9 November 2012 in Bangkok is an excellent indication on how we would progress the implementation of MRA on Tourism Professionals. It is one of the key ASEAN tourism initiatives to support the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015 that will facilitate the mobility of tourism professionals, and at the same time, improve the quality of services. The progress that has been achieved is encouraging. This is shown by the completion of the development of Toolboxes, the successful convening of the Training of ASEAN Master Trainers and Master Assessors for Housekeeping Division. With the readiness of MRA supporting components and the completion of the necessary infrastructure, the pilot implementation for the hotel housekeeping division would begin by next year.
In addition to those achievements in infrastructure preparation, the ASEAN Tourism Ministers supported the recommendation to establish a Regional Secretariat for ASEAN Tourism Professionals, and agreed to select Indonesia as the host of the Secretariat. All of these developments show that ASEAN is committed to completing these initiatives.
To ensure the quality of tourism in ASEAN, what policies and initiatives are ASEAN implementing?
ASEAN has achieved significant progress in developing initiatives on enhancing the quality of tourism services, facilities and human resources in the region. Guided by ATSP, a set of ASEAN Tourism Standards for ASEAN Green Hotels, Spa Services, Homestays, Clean Tourist Cities and ASEAN Public Toilets, all with a certification process, have been developed since 2011. We're seeking completion and implementation by 2015.
To promote the sustainability of the tourism industry, ASEAN Green Hotel Awards are granted bi-annually to hotels and resorts. For consideration are various energy conservation measures based upon a set of criteria agreed by ASEAN member states. These include environmental policies and actions for hotel operations, use of green products, and collaboration with the local community including human resource development, air quality management, solid waste management, and energy and water efficiency.
ASEAN countries are making regulations on green hotels, spa services, homestays, even public toilets. Is it ASEAN's initiatives or national governments'?
Sustainability is an essential element of the ASEAN tourism planning and development processes. As stated in the ATSP 2011-2015, ASEAN is developing Standards for Green Hotels, Spa Services, Public Toilets and Homestays to enhance the quality of these tourism establishments. These standards are ASEAN initiatives.
What measures are being taken to ensure visitors' safety and security within ASEAN?
An initiative on ASEAN Tourism Safety and Security to empower the ASEAN tourism sector in its endeavour to create and maintain a secure and safe environment is currently in place. An online resource centre, which provides guidelines, best practice examples and background papers is being completed. It is expected to be launched next year.
Are there any regulatory, investment or policy changes you would like to see to enhance air connectivity within ASEAN and between ASEAN and other regions?
To facilitate and enhance air services as well as complement transport facilitation, ASEAN 'open skies' agreements and protocols are in place. These agreements and protocols would allow airlines of a member state to provide air services from any city with international airports in its territory to any city with international airports in the territories of the other member states and vice-versa with full third (3rd), fourth (4th), and fifth (5th) freedom traffic rights. These initiatives will definitely enhance air connectivity within the region. We look forward to the ratification by all ASEAN member states of these agreements and protocols. Engagements with other countries, particularly with ASEAN dialogue partners, such as China, India and Korea, have started. This has been ASEAN's commitment stipulated under the implementation framework of the ASEAN Single Aviation Framework. With China, the main agreement and its 'Protocol 1' have been signed and are now in force. I would hope that these engagements with dialogue partners could be concluded within the stipulated timeline, 2015.
When you look at realising tourism potential in ASEAN, how much has been done, and how much can the region achieve?
The implementation of ATSP 2011-2015, the ASEAN Tourism Marketing Strategy 2012-2015 and the MRA on Tourism Professionals has recorded significant progress. Numerous joint activities, which focus on tourism marketing promotions, enhancing the quality of tourism, capacity building and identifying tourism products and experiences have been implemented in a timely fashion. In terms of realising tourism potential in ASEAN, one of the key ASEAN tourism initiatives to support the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015 is the full implementation of the MRA on Tourism Professionals. This will facilitate the free movement and employment of qualified and certified tourism personnel between and among ASEAN member states.
What kind of tourism product does ASEAN need to develop more?
ASEAN is endowed with ample tourism resources. They would need to be tapped for the benefit of the ASEAN people. Therefore, there is a need to further develop tourism products that would involve and benefit the local community. Homestay is one of the good examples on how tourism could provide trickling down effects to the community using experience and daily life as a main attraction. I believe that this could spread out to many areas in ASEAN Member States.
Apart from Viet Nam, what memorable travelling and dining experiences have you had in ASEAN?
Having served my home country as a diplomat for decades and now being the Secretary General of ASEAN, I have had the luxury of visiting all member states of the Association often. The experiences give me even more comfort when I remember that ASEAN is endowed with ample tourism resources — human, natural, historical and cultural. On dining, I have observed just how much foreign tourists enjoy local food in ASEAN countries. I admit, however, that wherever I go, Vietnamese food always follows me.
ASEAN Tourism Marketing Working Group: