Tropical Southeast Asia is a haven for international tourism with its bountiful nature, warm hospitality and eco-diversity.
But to exploit this natural advantage of the region, the environment has to be pristine so that tourists are attracted to this tropical paradise.
All over Southeast Asia, ASEAN countries are cashing in the tourism industry. In Vietnam, for example, the tourist sector recently has attracted several major investment projects by both domestic and foreign businesses, revealed the National Tourism Administration. The Tin Nghia Ltd. Co plans to invest US$300 million in a series of tourist projects in the southern provinces of Dong Nai and Ninh Thuan and Da Lat city in Central Highlands Lam Dong province. A consortium of Long Beach Corp, ESACO and Tropicana is building a US$68 million five-star resort in Phu Quoc island, which is expected to be the largest in Vietnam so far. Meanwhile, the central coastal city of Da Nang will soon become a haven for holiday makers with a bevy of resorts under construction along its beaches, including the Son Tra Spa & Resort and InterContinental Da Nang.
Eco-tourism and dependence on natural sceneries can be a double-edged sword because, if it is not planned well, the current trend of global warming can wipe out those natural assets. Global warming will produce stay-at-home tourists over the next few decades, threatening job creation and tourism-related businesses in countries like those in Southeast Asia. The UN Environment Programme, the World Meteorological Organisation and the World Tourism Organisation have said that concerns about weather extremes and calls to reduce emissions-heavy travel would make long-haul flights less attractive. This would be an important issue for ASEAN as tourism is one of ASEAN's priority areas and many of the countries in ASEAN are developing their tourism industry to create jobs and propel growth.
Tourists from developed countries like Europe, Canada, the US and Japan are likely to spend more holidays in their home countries to take advantage of longer summers and warmer weather. In a report for a UN conference here on climate change and tourism, they project that global warming would reduce demand for travel between northern Europe and the Mediterranean, between North America and theCaribbean, and between North-east Asia and South-east Asia. 'The geographic and seasonal redistribution of tourist demand may be very large for individual destinations and countries by mid- to late-century,' the agencies say. 'This shift in travel patterns may have important implications, including proportionally more tourism spending in temperate nations and proportionally less spending in warmer nations now frequented by tourists from temperate regions.'
Singapore also has a warning for the region. Reducing carbon emissions is half the equation in reducing greenhouse gases, Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo told global leaders at the United Nations. The other half is increasing carbon capture by catching the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide produced by industry and storing it, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. Mr Yeo said the fight to cut carbon dioxide emissions - thought to cause global warming - would result in failure without a collective effort.
He called on the superpower United States to take the lead in this with the rising powers following the lead: 'Increasingly, China and India will need to be involved as well, as they are becoming big emitters because of huge populations.' The minister stressed that tropical forests and marine ecosystems played an important role in the health of the planet and should be protected. He also urged policymakers to take a more active interest in the sciences that can help prevent climate change.
George Yeo added that well-run international institutions and effective governance is crucial in tackling global warming and climate issues. Only by working together in the appropriate forums can individual countries grapple with modern woes from repressive regimes to global warming. 'Whether it is climate change, global pandemics, the fight against terrorism, the multilateral trading system or international finance, we need better global governance,' he said.
He also said the UN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Health Organisation, among others, were established after World War II, and are not as efficient as they would be if they were created today. 'We have to work with these institutions as they are, not as we want them to be,' he said. 'Unless there is global conflagration, the improvement of global governance can only be achieved through gradual evolution, not revolution.'
The problem in Indonesia is inherited from past regimes. Indonesia, under former president Suharto, had decided to drain large areas of peatland for cultivation, unaware that fires there would be almost impossible to extinguish. Now, every year, Indonesia's neighbours are plagued by the choking haze emitted by mass burning, said Mr Yeo. 'Unless the system encourages local inhabitants to protect trees instead of chopping them down, the problem of deforestation cannot be solved. There must be assistance by developed countries in resources and expertise,' he said. 'However, there must also be a system of surveillance and control to ensure that money is properly used and not channelled into the wrong hands. Corruption is a major problem that has to be overcome.'
The minister said that Singapore and Malaysia are working with neighbouring Indonesian provinces to tackle peatland fires and develop sustainable land-clearing practices. But 'governments alone cannot do all the work', he noted. The private sector, non-governmental organisations and local communities must also play their part.
Countries in the region that already have an eco-friendly environment are set to benefit further from tourism. Singapore which has an established reputation for cleanliness and environmental initiatives is set to exploit the tourism industry further by going high-tech. Three advertising agencies, OgilvyOne, XM Asia and The Upper Story, have been shortlisted to enhance the country's presence in the Internet and come up with new digital platforms such as mobile and sensory media. This is a good publicity tool since 30 per cent of visitors to the city-state use the internet before planning their trip, according to Singapore’s tourism board.
"Among the concepts that the agencies have been asked to conceptualize are increased opportunities for travelers to interact with others online and share their own experiences, Singapore’s tourism board said. "Technology will enable us to reach our target visitor markets and segments in new unique ways before they arrive and during their stay," said Ken Low, the board's assistant chief executive. (4 October 2007)
'More stay-at-home tourists' as world hots up (Straits Times, 3 October 2007)
Vietnam`s tourist sector attracts bumper investment (Antara, 2 October 2007)
Singapore seeks more tourists with new digital brand strategy (Antara, 1 Oct 2007 and Earth Times, 1 October 2007)
International institutions vital, says George (Straits Times, 30 September 2007)
Two-pronged action needed in global warming fight, says George Yeo (Straits Times, 26 September 2007)