Tourism in Southeast Asia has reached new highs in recent years. But could today’s triumph become tomorrow’s tears for millions of visitors?
By Frédéric Janssens
It’s all in the numbers, as they say, and Asean’s tourism figures are nothing if not impressive. Since 2003 the number of people visiting the region has more than doubled, with the global economic crisis seemingly having little impact. In 2010 and 2011, most Asean countries recorded double-digit tourism growth. Some even flirted with a 20% increase last year, and these figures are only set to grow. According to the Asean Tourism Strategic Plan, tourism arrivals should be up to about 87 million a year by 2015 – a figure that may even be overshadowed by reality, with the World Travel and Tourism Council predicting at least 100 million tourist arrivals in 2015 alone. While the true figures will only be revealed with time, there is much reason to be optimistic about further growth. The booming industry led to more than $80 billion in direct revenue last year, generating more than nine million jobs, with trickle-down effects helping an estimated three times as many people. Champagne, everyone? Not so fast. Absorbing this massive tourism flow is a major challenge in the over-crowded tourism hubs of Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Manila. Already operating above their design capacity, these cities are rushing to expand their infrastructure, yet such last-minute reactive efforts may prove insufficient to accommodate the boom in international tourism.