WTTC Global Summit | How Travel Can Transform our World

Travel industry leaders, tourism ministers from other countries and conservation groups, journalists and representatives from the World Economic Forum, as well as former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, gathered together at the 17th World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) Global Summit held in Bangkok, Thailand, on April 26 and 27. Far-ranging issues that touched upon the area of sustainability, freedom to travel, the future of the industry and Asean tourism, among others, were thoroughly conversed through discussion panels and intimate “meet the experts” sessions.

Bangkok, Thailand, the site of the 17th World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit.

Boosting Asean tourism

Holding the WTTC Global Summit in Thailand has put the spotlight on the booming travel industry in the Asean region. Among the much-anticipated sessions of the two-day conference is the one participated in by tourism ministers from the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand, who took center stage for a panel discussion on “Freedom to Travel: Can Asean Countries Lead the Way?” Thailand Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul opened the session by affirming the urgency for the Asean to start a stronger collaboration in steering the region’s tourism industry to greater heights. “Asean is 50 years old, but Asean tourism acts like a 15-year-old,” Wattanavrangkul implored, before breaking out with a series of positive news that are finally developing in the region’s tourism industry.

“Asean will grow together. No one [in Asean] is a bigger or smaller brother. We are working together,” Wattanavrangkul said. “Tourism is not about making money, not just about economics. We have to make sure that everyone gets something, and we leave something for our children and the younger generation. We need to give the right to everyone in the 10 Asean countries to travel. Freedom of travel is not for the select few, but for everyone.”

The tourism ministers from Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand all gave a passionate endorsement to the proposed single Asean visa, which is expected to further boost tourism in the region.

Inda Yueh (from left), moderator; Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Thailand Minister of Tourism; Arun Mishra, Regional Director of ICAO Asia and Pacific Office; Wanda Corazon T. Teo, Philippine Tourism Secretary; and Arief Yahya, Indonesia Minister of Tourism.
In an interview, Philippine Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo said, “We would like to have one visa for Asean countries. This is for foreign tourists from all over the world who travel to Asean countries, so they can stay longer in Asean countries.” She also cautioned Western governments on the issuance of travel advisories to Asean countries. “I suggest that the embassies issuing the travel advisories must first check with the country concerned regarding the situation on the ground,” Teo added.

More than 100 million tourists traveled all over Southeast Asia in 2015, and this number is expected to rise as it raises the readiness of Asean nations to accommodate the projected influx of visitors. All three Asean ministers indicated plans for infrastructure expansion to meet the foreseen increase in tourism in a few years’ time. “[On] the future plans for airport expansion, immigration, anything that concerns travel, we’re now grouped together and using tourism as the head,” Wattanavrangkul said.

In a separate session, AirAsia Group chief executive Tony Fernandes reiterated the importance of continuing the momentum generated by Asean countries in terms of tourism. “Asean is a huge market. Thailand is the leader that’s becoming a more vibrant aviation market. It took me seven years to open the Kuala Lumpur-to-Singapore route because it had always been blocked. Now the region is talking about an open-skies policy,” Fernandes said.

AirAsia’s Tony Fernandes urges aviation liberalization

In one of the Meet the Experts sessions with members of the media, Fernandes, who steered AirAsia to becoming one of the world’s leading budget airlines that played a key role in heightening tourism arrivals in the Southeast Asian region, cited Asean’s rapid growth in the tourism industry.

In particular, Fernandes also mentioned the encouraging development of more airports expanding to accommodate rising tourist arrivals, such as Thailand’s recent reopening of Don Mueang airport and the addition of the U-Tapao hub.

WTTC President and Chief Executive David Scowsill shares the stage with AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes.
Coupled with the main hub of Kuala Lumpur, the future of Asean travel is heading into the right direction—as additional plans for airport expansion are already laid out in the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and even Myanmar.

“Asean has made huge improvements, but it still [has] a long way to go to become truly open like Europe,” said Fernandes, as he pointed out the importance of liberalizing the region’s aviation sector.

“What we need to look at is common ownership…. Joint ventures are less efficient than full ownership, unlike Ryan Air and EasyJet in Europe,” he added.

Fernandes also shared plans of introducing direct flights to Europe soon. “Once we get the aircraft, which is very soon, we will go to Europe. It doesn’t matter where we land, because it doesn’t have to be a big hub. There are many interesting off-the- beaten-track points in Europe that offer three or four reasons for one to go. It may not be London, it may be like Manchester or Dublin,” he added.

“Is it Too Much to Ask?”

The summit also echoed the call for sustainability in all matters related to tourism and travel. David Scowsill, president and chief executive of World Travel & Tourism Council, challenged the audience to take up the truncheon of advocacy in transforming our world”, by making a genuine difference to the “eradication of poverty, cleaning up the oceans and protecting habitats,” while expanding the reach of travel throughout the world.

WTTC President and CEO David Scowsill challenges the audience to help transform our world through sustainability
“Is it too much to ask?” Scowsill asked the summit’s audience, as he sought the calibration of the effects of globalization in the travel industry to create more benefits for the people—while promoting the right of everyone to travel. “Travel is not for a privileged few. The world and its astonishing beauties are for everyone. We believe in the fundamental right of anyone to travel, regardless of their nationality, gender, religion, sexual orientation or age.”

As the travel industry continues to stimulate the world economy by a staggering $7.6 trillion, while supporting over 292 million jobs, the issue of sustainability is considered a clear and present concern. More important than continuing this massive economic momentum, the safeguarding of our planet’s natural resources, animal species and various habitats must remain the forefront agenda of everyone involved in the travel industry.

This sector plays a vital part in the global quest for a more equal, inclusive and sustainable world. For our sector to continue to thrive, we must focus on three elements: people need to be able to travel; we need successful businesses; and we need responsible practices,” Scowsill concluded.

Globalization with a cause

In his keynote address on the topicAltered States—Has Globalization Had Its Day?”, former UK Prime Minister David Cameron sought for a stronger response from world governments to solve the challenges that face the tourism industry today. “Tourism can transform countries. Governments and those in the business world should work together to tackle the threat of Islamist extremism, while preserving the benefits of globalization,” Cameron said.

Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron talks about globalization and tourism.
Cameron also stated the importance of polishing the concepts of globalization to become more inclusive and for developing and underdeveloped countries to experience tourism’s trickle-down effects, in order to achieve a stronger economic surge and employment creations.

As the WTTC gears up for next year’s summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the industry promises to police each other closely in order to fulfill the pledges agreed upon during the summit: Sustainability, collective inclusion of all economies, freedom to travel, single Asean visa, open borders and, most of all, a more united world through travel.

* This article appeared in the May 14, 2017 issue of Business Mirror *