Report: Asia should focus on local markets

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BANGKOK, Thailand -- In an effort to mitigate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks' impact on tourism, countries in the Asia/Pacific region should shift their market focus toward domestic and intraregional travel, a new report shows.

Asian destinations must respond to the reduction in long-haul flights -- particularly from the U.S. -- with products that are packaged to attract Asian visitors like those from Japan and other growth markets, according to Strategic Forecasting, an Austin, Texas-based global research firm.

Commissioned by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), the report recommends that destinations in Asia and the Pacific target the region with "aggressive marketing campaigns." In particular, the report recommends focusing on Japanese travelers, because of their "high level of disposable income," and on Europeans, who accounted for 58% of international tourism last year.

According to the report, "Many Japanese and European tourists will be avoiding the U.S. and the Middle East and looking for safe alternative locations. Countries in the Asia/Pacific region should take advantage of this opportunity to market themselves."

The report cites analysts such as Merrill Lynch, which predicts global air travel could fall by as much as 10% next year, surpassing the only other annual decline in global air traffic since World War II: a 1.5% drop-off in 1991 due to the combined effects of the Gulf war and the weak economy.

It also cites plans announced by U.S. and European airlines to ground more than 1,150 flights and to defer airplane orders from major airplane manufacturers since Sept. 11.

The report says airlines, hotels, tour operators, travel agencies and other tourism-related businesses need to come up with strategies to increase regional tourism and pool their resources for promotion.

A cooperative approach "should allow tourist destinations throughout the region to benefit from the changing landscape and will be much more successful at reaching large groups of tourists in the identified growth markets," the report says.

According to the report, Asian governments are "well aware of the importance of the tourism industry for providing employment and foreign exchange, and for securing domestic stability."

As such, governments should be prepared to provide support to troubled companies and sectors through such measures as tax credits and low-interest loans as they cope with the downturn in the industry.

Although the current military campaign's focus on South and Central Asia and the Middle East will have a limited regional impact on East Asia and the Pacific, countries like Indonesia and the Philippines may be exceptions, as both have large Islamic populations and existing threats from separatist and militant Muslim groups, the report points out.

According to the report, "Although Manila may be gaining the upper hand over the Abu Sayyaf rebel group, Jakarta is only starting to feel the effects of fundamentalist, extremist and militant forces rising in sympathy with Afghanistan -- or merely exploiting the current chaos for their own purposes."

However, the report warns that even if increased intraregional travel and tourism is promoted to mitigate the loss of U.S. and European clientele, domestic unrest "can quickly undermine travel confidence" throughout Asia and the Pacific.

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