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ASEAN Tourism Forum 2024 shrinks but sees higher engagement

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The annual ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) in Vientiane, Laos in January may have been the smallest ever, but was applauded by participants who identified with products and services offered at the TRAVEX exhibition and with topics at the ASEAN Tourism Conference.

ATF 2024 was jointly organised by the ASEAN Tourism Association (ASEANTA) and the Laos Government through its Ministry of Information, Communication and Tourism (MICT).

Total attendance for the South East Asian event stood at about 450 participants, comprising 208 sellers from 105 companies at 34 booths, 70 hosted buyers from regional and long-haul markets, 130 trade visitors and 26 international media. The smaller exhibition was disappointing compared with pre-pandemic editions, and was made starker by the absence of Singapore and Brunei.

“This year’s scale may not match the peak of ATF’s history. Nevertheless, we are delighted that MICT has boldly stepped forward to support ASEANTA in making this commitment to change the status quo,” said ASEANTA president Eddy Krismeidi Soemawilaga, intimating a revamp is in the offing.

 “TRAVEX serves as the annual convention of the ASEAN tourism industry, providing a platform for the exchange of ideas, review of industry developments and the joint formulation of specific recommendations to further accelerate the growth of ASEAN tourism.”

The Philippines had the strongest presence at TRAVEX with a variety of options, including MICE. Hotels, travel agencies and service providers at the Laos pavilion played up the country’s heritage, culture and natural environment, as did corporate exhibitors – in support of Visit Laos Year 2024.

At the Malaysia pavilion, Johor and Melaka focused on a host of exciting activities to interest leisure travellers and groups alike, given the states’ proximity to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, respectively. Perak offered Kuala Lumpur and Penang as gateways to its unique attractions. Sabah and Selangor had separate booths, and went big on nature and fun.

Vietnam, which counts Oceania among its top target markets, promoted Dien Bien province heavily, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Dien Bien Phu victory in the first Indochina War, along with favourite leisure and MICE destinations Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Overall, Indochina and special interest travel dominated the trade show, with some hotels and tour operators expressing interest in small conferences, corporate meetings, team building and incentive events. A few are already handling Australian business.

Novel ideas and suggestions at ATC sessions could apply to both leisure travel and business events, such as how to market sustainability; unique sustainable experiences in ecotourism and adventure; and community-based tourism, which provides income for the locals and rewarding experiences for visitors.

Vincent Tham, director of D’Event Tree, Singapore, which manages high-end business events, said TRAVEX presented a good combination of ecotourism and modernisation.

“A longer incentive trip could combine both [Laos and Thailand]: exciting Bangkok and placidly lovely Luang Prabang or Vientiane [in Laos].”

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