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This year’s ASEAN Tourism Forum in Davao City, Philippines,
brought good news to travel agents. Big spenders Malaysia,
Singapore and Thailand are reversing course after years of cutting
U.S. marketing and promotion spending.
“Long-haul markets are very productive,” said Singapore Tourism
Board CEO Lim Neo Chian. “The U.S. market, for example, was up 11
percent in 2005. You don’t cut budgets in the face of 11 percent
“It’s about time Southeast Asian destinations started courting
the U.S. market again,” said Kaushik Sen, president of San
Francisco tour operator World Travellers’ Club. “The numbers of
U.S. visitors may be relatively modest, but the yields are high.
That’s a plus for travel agents.”
“If you do a full analysis of spending patterns, long haul is
significantly more valuable than regional markets,” Sen said.
“Regional travelers fill rooms, but do they drink in your bars or
do they buy at the 7-11 on the corner? Do they eat in your
restaurants or do they patronize hawker stalls and starve your food
and beverage outlets? The smart way to boost profits is to boost
yield and America is the highest-yield market Southeast Asia has
Singapore has to focus on yield, Lim said. With hotel
occupancies in the high 80s, the city-state can’t absorb many more
“At the end of the day, tourism is all about raising receipts,”
he said. “You can do that by increasing arrivals or by increasing
expenditures. We want to make it more fun to spend more money in
Singapore, not bring in more people.”
Singapore’s neighbor to the north, Malaysia, is even more
focused on U.S. business. Tourism Ministry director general Dr.
Victor Wee announced an increase in promotional spending as part of
the run up to Visit Malaysia Year 2007.
“We want to be the top of mind destination,” Wee said. “One of
the ways you do that is by increasing your marketing budget,
especially in long haul markets with direct air connections. The
U.S. has particularly good air access to Malaysia.”
The problem, Wee explained, is that Malaysia and its neighbors
have become too dependent on regional markets such as China, India,
Japan, Korea, and Singapore. Asian travelers were hailed as saviors
when long haul travel collapsed in 2001, but regional markets are
more loyal to price than to destination. Long haul travelers are
more interested in finding a unique experience than in beating down
“Asia is far more sensitive and reactive than long haul
markets,” Wee said. “Yet Asia accounts for about 80 percent of our
total arrivals. We need to boost our exposure in America and Europe
in order to balance our market mix, so we will increase our
The Tourism Authority of Thailand may have to boost its own U.S.
marketing support to keep up. That’s where the Thailand Grand
Invitation 2006 comes in.
The yearlong promotional campaign is centered around the 60th
anniversary of King Bhumibol’s accession to the Thai throne. The
anniversary will be celebrated with the largest Royal Barge
Procession in history on the Chao Praya River in Bangkok on June 9
and monthly events throughout the year. TAT director Eumporn
Jiragalvisul said Thailand hopes to attract a record 13.8 million
visitors in 2006.
“This year, our king’s 60th anniversary, is quite important to
Thailand,” she said. “He is the longest reigning monarch in the
world. We will spend whatever is necessary to make it a record year
for tourism, too.”