SE Asia’s most wanted

The tourism landscape in South-east Asia is constantly evolving, with travel trends moving towards sustainable tourism and slow travel. Hear from ASEAN NTOs and industry stakeholders which of the region’s game-changing destinations should make it to our watchlist for 2020 .

Ulu Temburong National Park is on my 2020 radar as the 30km Temburong bridge linking Brunei-Muara to Temburong will be opened, thereby reducing travel time between the two districts and making it easier to promote and market the national park as a tourist attraction. – CP Foo, general manager, Century Travel

Brunei’s Ulu Temburong National Park is home to virgin rainforest

In 2020, the Ministry of Tourism will be actively promoting ecotourism offerings in the provinces of Stung Treng, Rattanakiri, Mondulkiri and Kratie. Visitors will have the opportunity to mingle with indigenous tribes and see wild elephants in Mondulkiri. River dolphins are renowned in Kratie, as are the many natural wonders in Stung Treng and Rattanakiri. – Prak Vuthy, director of overseas tourism marketing and promotion department, Ministry of Tourism Cambodia

Ecotourism is growing in rural Cambodia and we have created 
itineraries to cater to its demand. Kratie is a good destination for viewing endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, and there are plenty of homestay options in both the province and Mekong River islands. We will also be promoting more community-driven products in lesser-known provinces such as Stung Treng and Rattanakiri. – Mak Kun, product manager, VLK Royal Tourism

Fishermen at Tonle Sap Lake, Kratie, Cambodia

President Joko Widodo has mandated the development of five “super-priority destinations” (Labuan Bajo, Mandalika, Borobudur, Lake Toba and Likupang) to encourage visitors to explore the archipelago beyond the popular tourist resort island Bali.

The ministry has earmarked Rp9.4 trillion (US$668 million) in developing their infrastructure, amenities, destination marketing and other aspects. It is then important to create an ecosystem of preserving culture and empowering communities economically to ensure continuity in sustainable tourism. We project the growth of new businesses and job creations with more international tourism events happening in Indonesia. – Wishnutama Kusubandio, Indonesia minister of tourism and creative economy

Our focus in 2020 is to develop train tours in West Java, as some routes have been built or reopened. Bandung’s municipal government is in talks with Kereta Api Indonesia with developing alternatives to support existing train routes from Jakarta via Bogor.

The reopened Bogor-Sukabumi route features a number of historical attractions such as a megalithic site on Gunung Padang. Train journeys will also enable travellers to pass the longest bridge on Java Island – named (Jembatan Cikubang) – and tea plantations – both of which have been around since the Dutch colonial era.

Air-conditioned trains also connect Bandung to other tourist destinations such as Pangandaran and Garut in West Java. – Daniel Nugraha, director, Exotic Java Trails

Aerial view of Cikubang Bridge in West Java, the longest active train bridge in Indonesia

Due to improvements in infrastructure and air connectivity, we are expecting significant tourism growth for Laos in 2020. Heritage boutique hotels in the UNESCO site of Luang Prabang, in particular, have proven to be a huge draw for customers seeking new experiences. This means we can offer additional options as an add-on extension for those travelling in other Indochina countries. – Ian Woods, group business development director, ICS Travel Group

Nagas Luang Prabang, a boutique hotel in Laos’ former royal capital

A new destination highlighted in our domestic and international promotions is Desaru Coast in Johor, which is relatively unknown to international markets. Launched in July 2019, this integrated destination has attractions and facilities that will appeal to both leisure and business travellers. Desaru Coast spans over 1,600ha along a pristine 17km beachfront. Tourists can stay at upscale hotels, play golf and have fun at Adventure Waterpark Desaru Coast, which is home to one of the biggest wave pools in the world. – Musa Yusof, director-general, Tourism Malaysia

Langkawi is a very good destination for ecotourism, and its UNESCO Global Geopark status adds to its touristy appeal. It is also a duty-free island where alcohol can be purchased at a lower price compared to other parts of the country. The availability of liquor, good resorts, sun, sand and sea make this the perfect destination experience for western markets, which we wish to grow. – Nigel Wong, director, Urban Rhythms Tours, Adventures Travel

Tanjung Rhu Beach in Langkawi Island

Myanmar is a country with diverse attractions offering culture, nature, heritage, food and festivals. In 2020, we will introduce Tanintharyi Region as a destination ideal for adventure trips and island stays with its abundance of natural rainforests and unspoilt marine resources. – May Myat Mon Win, chairperson, Myanmar Tourism Marketing Recent developments in infrastructure have led to growth in cruise and tour operations in the Mergui Archipelago, a hidden paradise that I believe is turning into a hotspot. – Zarni Htwe, managing director, Adventure Myanmar Tours Incentives

Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago is seeing more cruise and tour operations

Iloilo is a prime tourist area not only for leisure travellers but also for MICE thanks to its beaches, sustainable urban development, rich cultural heritage, and cuisine that fuses Spanish, Chinese and local influences.

The presence of an international airport and wide thoroughfares also make Iloilo more accessible to travellers while the rehabilitation of the Iloilo River, completion of the scenic 8km Esplanade, and renovation of historic and heritage buildings and sites are all targeted at the development of sustainable tourism. – Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, tourism secretary, Philippines

Puerto Princesa, El Nido and Coron islands in Palawan are popular among tourists due to their diversified offerings, ranging from underground river wonders to karst and limestone scenery. The pristine white beaches of Palawan’s San Vicente are also meriting a number of enquiries.

Those from the US, Australia and other longhaul markets usually spend 8D/7N exploring these destinations. – Irine Maliwanag, general manager, Im-ACTIVE Tours, Events, MICE Management Services

Miagao Church, a historical landmark in Iloilo, the Philippines

Following the recent close of the Jurong Lake District’s Expression of Interest exercise, we are reviewing concepts from interested parties in 2H2020. We will consider attraction concepts such as nature or tech-based edutainment that appeal to families and working adults, as the site will complement the neighbouring Jurong Lake Gardens and the new Science Centre.

We hope the new tourism development will be a world-class leisure destination with attractions, hotels, and other lifestyle offerings. It will be aligned with the wider vision of the Jurong Lake District becoming a vibrant mixed-use business and leisure district that leverages its unique waterfront setting and surrounding greenery. – Jean Ng, executive director, attractions, entertainment and tourism concept development, Singapore Tourism Board

We are looking at going into more heartland areas, as there are many pockets still unexplored by tourists in Singapore. Our Ang Mo Kio Bird Singing Club tour is doing very well, so we hope to explore other neighbourhoods such as Toa Payoh. For our customers who are mainly from 
Europe and America, and especially those who have visited Singapore before, they are looking for experiences beyond attractions such as the Merlion and Sentosa. – Jasmine Tan, co-founder, Oriental Travel and Tours

Oriental Travel Tours takes visitors into Singapore’s heartland

The Tourism Authority of Thailand will continue to focus on promoting linkages between major and emerging destinations to balance the seasonality factor and achieve a better distribution of tourist arrivals between urban and rural areas.

For the longhaul markets, we are creating awareness in emerging destinations offering a combination of natural and cultural travel experiences such as Nakhon Si Thammarat, Trang, Phatthalung, Chiang Rai, Nan, Phayao, Chanthaburi and Trat.

For the shorthaul markets, including South-east Asia, we are promoting Surat Thani, Ko Samui and its vicinity as affordable luxury destinations. Our Get Active Retreat Islands initiative will encourage responsible tourism and diving activities. 
– Yuthasak Supasorn, governor, Tourism Authority of Thailand

Ayutthaya, Thailand’s ancient royal capital, is the destination to look out for this year. Dotted with red-brick ruins where kings and queens once lived and worshipped, the city is on the cusp of a renaissance with new cafés and boutiques popping up, bringing in a fresh, youthful vibe with lots of Instagram-worthy venues. Guests can travel by helicopter to see the ruins and countryside from a different angle, or take a more leisurely route with an immersive overnight journey along the river from Bangkok. – Tim Cook, country manager, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, Abercrombie Kent

Wat Chaiwatthanaram, one of Ayutthaya’s best known temples

Hoi An, Hue and Dalat will undoubtedly see an increase in traffic for 2020, as they offer unique experiences from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Phuc Quoc is gaining attention too, with direct flights from Kuala Lumpur and its year-round accessibility.

Personally, I hope Phong Nha gets more attention. Their cave system and landscape are serene and captivating. Access and infrastructure remain limited but this will change in the next few years. – Ken Lau, CEO/founder, Adventoro Travel

Son Doong, the largest cave in the world, is at the heart of the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh, Vietnam