WTO Seminar on "Challenges For East Asia And The Pacific Region Up To The Turn Of The Century", 6 July 1994
Tourism is a major growth industry. It is growing faster than the world economy as a whole in terms of output, value added, capital investment and employment. Travel and tourism generated more than US$2.5 trillion in gross output, which is 5.5 percent of world GNP in 1991. In the same year, it employed more than 112 million people worldwide. It invests more than US$350 billion in new facilities, and capital equipment, or 7.3 percent of worldwide capital investment. It has helped to reduce disparities between places, to disperse growth to remote areas and a natural building bloc in our effort to forge regional economic integration.
As for the East Asia and Pacific region, it is likely to maintain its position for the next several years as the most rapidly expanding region for the travel and tourism industry, reflecting regional political stability and growing economic prosperity. In 1992, there was a 6.8 percent rise in tourism receipts throughout the region, amounting to US$279 billion. Tourist arrivals grew by 8.2 percent, or 58.3 million tourists, the highest in the world.
However, bullish as we are with the prospect of tourism it is always in our disposition to temper optimism with caution. Thus, as the we look to the prospects for the next century, it is imperative that the industry examines itself and addresses some pertinent, yet wider and more fundamental issues of concern. These are the question that have direct bearing on the industry's acceptability and sustainability, the question of social responsibility and the industry's relation to society at large.
Tourism on the whole is about nature and culture. Nature is given but it has to await culture or human intervention to transform nature to become tourist attractions, hence the need for the necessary services and establishments. But for tourism to be meaningful to the host society there must be linkages with the surrounding population. This is indeed a profoundly relevant issue which those involved in the industry, especially in underdeveloped areas, must not be oblivious to. An isolated tourist establishment, within the splendour of nature, for example, but surrounded by a population living in poverty, would generate envy and resentment. Planning for such tourist establishments must be carried out with sensitivity and social awareness, to draw the involvement and participation of the local population. It must create not only economic opportunities for the host societies but also avenues to preserve and even revitalize aspects of their culture, arts and crafts. In the past, there was a lot of opposition to the introduction of tourism in developing countries because of the jarring intrusion of luxury and opulent lifestyles in the midst of destitution and poverty.
In many instances, tourism has been identified with the exotic, be it natural or cultural. Natural beauty, idyllic natural settings and cultural attractions do indeed provide the cutting edge in the industry. However, we must remain vigilant where exploitation of nature and culture for the entertainment of tourists can reach the point of diminishing returns or even net negative returns. Sustainable returns from tourism in the future must be based on more constructive development plans than what we already have at this point.
Since the cultural heritage of a country is a tourist attraction, a resource on which the industry relies, it means that the industry must plan to invest in the preservation and renewal of our culture and traditional environments. It must become a sponsor of the finest expressions of our arts and crafts. The new market niche, an increasingly attractive package deal, is educating the tourist to appreciate and understand the environment and cultures they can visit. More and more tourists want greater stimulation from their travels, and the tourist who wants to learn and finds a destination ready to cater to his interest, returns again and again.
We must look upon tourism as a means of generating growth. We have invested and will continue to invest heavily in holiday establishments and a vast range of events and activities to attract foreign visitors. But we are no less serious in promoting domestic tourism to cater to the interest of various income groups in our country. We are eager to make our country known to foreigners by means of tourism, but we must also be committed to improve the facilities for our own citizens to discover the beauty, diversity and authenticity of various parts of their homeland. The same is equally true for the entire region. Economic growth and tourism should be mutually reinforcing. And as the region grows in prosperity, each country would have to develop domestic tourism for its own citizens. Our own experience in recent years have shown that domestic tourism can significantly contribute as a source of growth at times when the international economy was sluggish.
The potential for regional tourism is indeed enormous, a potential -- both in term of revenue and other spin-off effects -- which we are only beginning to tap. Until recently the more affluent members of Asian societies prefer destinations in Europe and North America to spend their holidays. The challenge for us now is to induce them to explore the natural and cultural diversity of Asia-Pacific. The industry must have the confidence and innovativeness to cater this growing segments of tourists, without in any way displacing the traditional destinations and markets. This is an opportunity that should not be miss, and indeed a worthy challenge to the industry. To tap this potential to the fullest, we must improve our services such as hotels, and transportation and the uniqueness of the features and events of the region. Competition will be stiff, but we must also venture into collaborative promotional programmes, organizing joint tour packages, that would enable the industry to offer greater variety of events and places to potential tourists.
In conclusion, the challenge for the industry is manifold. It is not only to discern what the tourists want, or can be persuaded to accept. In the future the challenge will be to find new and imaginative ways to cater to various segments of the market including the discerning tourist. To do that the tourism industry must become a creative cultural force in our society. It must truly add value to our natural and cultural environments in order to earn its value added returns in every sense of the word.