As Asia gets richer, millions of people who have been admiring the wonders of the world on their television sets are looking to see them in person, and the prospect has global tourism players excited.
Tourists enjoy a shikara ride on Dal Lake in Srinagar, India.
The rise of the middle class with deeper pockets in Asia, and the shift toward a more customer-focused approach in the travel and tourism industry were the key topics of discussion at the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Summit in Korea earlier last week.
But questions remain about how well-prepared the region is to best exploit this huge projected growth while attempting to minimise the impacts arising from changes in consumer demand.
“This is the dynamic change of the world. It will be the period where Asia’s growth will account for over half of the world GDP, the OECD economy will become small and smaller, while the emerging economy will continue to expand,” said Ian Goldin, director of Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford.
“[This will prompt] a release of genius to the world and a release of new talents. We are seeing the period of rapid innovation which is not just an individual talent, but more of a collective one, with many changes happening in Asia.”
Prof Goldin told WTTC delegates that the rapid decline in birth rates rate and the increase in the median age seen in Asia will create a big impact on tourism industry. China’s one-child policy has been a major factor, of course, but so too has been the rise in education and employment of women in most Asian societies. As a result of these demographic changes, Asians will no longer consume the way they used to, and this is a significant behavioural shift.
Tourists walk on the U Bein bridge in Amarpura in Mandalay, Myanmar. At 1.2 kilometres, it is the world's longest bridge made of teak.
“We now have more information at our fingertips. Things that have always been risky seem more visible than before,” said Christophe Jouan, the CEO of Future Foundation, a global independent consumer trends and insight specialist. “People will be more aware of consequences. Rather than just having an adventurous trip, Asians will care more about their safety, especially for the younger generation.”
Mr Jouan said that the idea of physical risks from participating in various activities has emerged among consumers. It is vital for tourism-related agencies to be aware of these changing habits and learn to adapt their products and services in line with them.
“Governments have to understand how to do things and how to handle these groups of new people. The challenges are the ability to cater to many variable segments,” said Madhavan Menon, managing director of Thomas Cook (India) Ltd. “The median age is shifting, therefore in a tour group there will be many different demands which we need to understand well to be able to deliver the products that fit best with their needs.”
Unlike Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia will be enjoying the dividend of a younger population for a while longer, noted Dr Mari Elka Pangestu, the Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy of Indonesia. This has implications for tourism and the kinds of activities regional travellers will want.
Visa-free travel for nationals of Asean members has already created big and positive change in tourism industry, she said. The rise of low-cost carriers also has led to a big increase in people movement; however, what the region needs to do to make this growth sustainable is the challenge.
“We have to ensure that we can maintain growth by doing it in more environmentally friendly ways,” she said. “In the long run, consumers will be looking for more sustainable and higher quality products. We need to emphasise more the concept of the Asean Green Hotel Standard.”
People-to-people connectivity and integration are crucial in promoting tourism, in her view. It is important for a country to learn how to make others understand its culture better. Sometimes, it may be necessary to adapt some aspects of traditional customs in order to make them easier to understand from foreigners’ perspectives.
“The idea is to maintain the heritage of local wisdom while contemporising it, to add value to it and allow others to appreciate it,” she said.
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Writer: Nithi Kaveevivitchai