Travel and Tourism Analytical Update: August 1, 2019

Travel and Tourism Analytical Update | August 1, 2019
Authors: Lilibeth Almonte-Arbez, Jordan Fox, Steven Gunawan, Shay Wester
August 1, 2019: Travel and Tourism Committee Call

Snapshot of ASEAN Governments’ Efforts to Ensure Sustainable Tourism

Brunei Darussalam

The Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism has developed and promoted sustainable community-based tourism projects like the Kampong Ayer Walking Trail, the Brunei River Heritage Trail, and Discover Muara in an attempt to diversify Brunei’s tourism destination offerings. The Tourism Minister, Haji Ali, has also planned to develop activity-based ecotourism products like bird watching, homestays, and additional culture and community-based tourism projects in the future. On top of that, Brunei has also launched a “No Plastic Bags” initiative in which 50 major retailers commit to stop distributing plastic bags to customers. The initiative began in 2011, designating Saturday and Sunday as “No Plastic Bags” days, however, it has now been extended to cover all days of the week. This has resulted in the significant drop of plastic use in Brunei, according to the data from Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation (JASTRe).

The tourism portion of BIMP EAGA Vision 2025[1] (a regional cooperation under the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area), works to enhance “access, connectivity and infrastructure development, ecotourism sites and tourism circuits developed, and communities with sustainable livelihoods”. As of July 10, they have completed 16 of the 69 total infrastructure projects connecting the area to create a single eco-tourism location including the rehabilitation of the Brunei International Airport (completed in 2017), building a Pan-Borneo Highway (expected to be completed in 2022), establishing rest and recreation centers along the new highway, and the Temburong Bridge. More generally, this project creates tourism loops between all member countries including UNESCO World Heritage Sites, national and marine parks, and signature events. It will also develop and share eco-tourism best practices and train stakeholders to comply with ASEAN tourism standards.


The Tourism Ministry is currently coordinating with other organizations to develop more legal norms to encourage public private cooperation in building creative attractions and infrastructure as a response to environmental damage from overtourism in costal and cultural areas. This builds on the already 70 regulatory documents governing the development of the tourism sector. Current examples include a partnership between the Ministry and Siem Reap Tourism Club to promote the upcoming Cambodia Travel Mart (a premium travel trade show taking place October 11-13, 2019 in Phnom Pehn). The Ministry also teamed up with UNESCO to develop more tourism hotspots and products, and to protect Cambodian cultural sites.

The Cambodia Sustainable Landscape and Ecotourism Project, a collaboration with the World Bank, will be implemented over a period of six years and promote ecotourism opportunities, improve protected areas (PA) management, and enhance Non-Timber Forest Product value chains in the Cardamom Mountains-Tonle Sap landscape. This initiative will finance technical assistants to develop a PA enforcement plan, toolkit, and laws with the help of other NGOs. Although there are existing tourism fees imposed at select PA’s, but the general guidelines, use, and collection methods are unclear. Therefore, they will develop a benefit-sharing agreement for ecotourism fees in line with international best practices to sustainably finance the PA’s.


Following the rejection of a judicial review that challenged the local administration’s limit on single-use plastic, the Bali administration is currently drafting a “green levy” that would impose a US$ 10 fee to be paid by each of the annual average of 6.5 million incoming foreign tourists. It would be added either to airline tickets or collected at airport counters and the funds would be used to improve waste management. However, the first option has been challenged by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as it would breach an agreement that prohibit fees and other charges being imposed based on entry, transit or exit from a territory. Not only on the main island of Bali, but also on Bali’s three main offshore islands - Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan; foreign visitors will be required to pay a fee starting July 8, 2019 (US$ 1.07 and US$ 1.79 for toddler and adult respectively). The fee is collected once for access to all three islands and will be used to improve island infrastructure.

In a June report, the World Bank and Government of Indonesia identified marine and costal tourism as a key driver of the Indonesian economy. In line with the observations, the government is working towards establishing Sustainable Tourism Observatories (STOs) to “monitor risks to natural and cultural assets and identify growing pressure points” in key tourism areas. In addition, the World Bank suggested solutions to manage the flow of visitors, adopt destination management strategies based on “limits of acceptable change” rather than instilling carrying capacities, and scaling up current infrastructure and basic service investment projects to target select destinations. They have recommended monetizing marine and coastal sites by designating them as protected areas and instilling visitor fees that focus on maximizing revenue rather than maximizing tourist numbers. The report recognizes that while Indonesia’s National Action Plan states it will reduce marine debris 70% by 2025, the goal will require extensive behavioral changes, like those attempted in the Clean Indonesia Campaign, and improved waste management in cities and maritime activities. The World Bank emphasized efforts like the Extended Producer Responsibility regulation, expected by the end of the year, which makes producers financially and physically responsible for their products. This includes creating packaging with a higher proportion of recycled material and managing waste from their products.


Laos has focused on cultural, heritage, and community tourism to draw visitors and increase economic opportunity throughout the country. They have worked to capitalize on natural assets, pursuing an application to make Plain of Jars, an archaeological landscape, their third World Heritage Site (the announcement is likely to come later this month). The Laos Sustainable Tourism Network has also supported efforts to develop community-based tourism in Laung Namtha.

The ongoing Greater Mekong Subregion Tourism Infrastructure for Inclusive Growth Project, a government project in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank was originally created in 2015 to transform the Mekong region into an ecotourist haven. It currently consists of supplying equipment for waste management, heritage interpretation, and road improvement.


Following the death of the last Sumatran Rhino in Malaysia, the Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister vowed to step up efforts to protect their wildlife. In late June, Sabah created consistent guidelines for sentencing wildlife crimes that aim to curb the illegal wildlife trade. The guidelines look at the “level of culpability of the offence, level of harm caused by the accused, and the aggravating and mitigating factors presented by the prosecution and the accused/defense.”

The Departure Levy Bill 2019, which would impose a levy on all travelers leaving the country by plane starting July 1, may be delayed until 2021 to avoid a dip in tourist numbers during Visit Malaysia 2020. It was originally pushed back until September 1, but many are concerned about the levy’s effect on inbound tourism numbers. As it stands, it would cost USD$4.87 for travelers going to ASEAN countries and USD$9.73 for those traveling to countries outside ASEAN.

Malaysia has also worked to combat the deterioration of its historic cities from increased tourism. Cities like Melaka plan to combat high traffic congestion, poor air quality, flooding risks from improper waste management, and infrastructure decay by working with 100 Resilient Cities, an organization dedicated to improving the resilience of the city’s systems against physical, social, and economic challenges.


A new tourism law in Myanmar allows state and regional governments to issue tourism licenses and control investments into their tourism industry. This contributes to states having more agency over the projects in their area, especially regarding cultural and ecological needs.

To boost tourism in both Myanmar and Thailand, the countries signed an MoU earlier this year that will connect historical sites through five routes while following Global Sustainable Tourism Council criteria to protect the culture and natural resources. The Suphan Buri tourism and hotel association, U Thong Ancient City, and the Tour Guide Club also signed an MoU to promote the region.

On July 6, Bagan was approved as a World Heritage becoming Myanmar’s second World Heritage Site but will face challenges maintaining the site. The updated status also comes with strict conservation rules limiting permanent structures surrounding the temples and improving water management. Therefore, the surrounding hotels will now be forced to relocate to a dedicated hotel zone by 2028.


The Department of Tourism (DOT) laid out its initiative this month to create a “tourism circuit” that links its many heritage sites. This will include sites like the National Museum, Rizal Park, Binondo, and many others. In addition, the historically important island of Corregidor will soon be developed into a destination for sailing, running, nature trekking, and glamping. The CEO and chairperson of the Corregidor Foundation Inc. said they plan to spend P12 million to craft a “viable and sustainable integrated Comprehensive Tourism Master Plan”.

Following its reopening in late April, Boracay is working to strictly enforce the ban on big beach parties, drinking alcoholic beverages and smoking on the beach, as well as beach easement rules.

Cebu is working to lead sustainable tourism in the country by calling on stakeholders to make this a priority. The DOT mentioned stricter implementation of the visitor per day restrictions in whale watching, sustainable operations, less plastic use, and waste management for hotels, restaurants, and resorts. Sagada, popular for its hanging coffins, also recently issued carrying capacities at every tourist site in the region.

Cities in the Philippines such as Makati, Quezon, Pasig, and Las Piñas have attempted to tackle plastic use by enforcing the Senate Bill 2759 that bans the use of plastic bags. Like the Senate Bill 2759, Boracay adopted the Municipal Ordinance No. 386, barring the use of plastic items in hotels, resorts and restaurants. Moreover, in San Fernanda, La Union, the government adopted the City Ordinance No. 2014-0, which allows the government to fine businesses that sells plastic in public market and those who uses plastic to package their dry and/or wet goods.


Singapore has fewer natural resources than other ASEAN countries but has looked to incorporate nature into its urban center. In January of this year, they began creating an eco-tourism zone made up of a bird park, rainforest park, and 400-room resort, but many environmentalists have opposed the plan saying that it would destroy the natural wildlife that was present there. The project is estimated to finish in 2023. Singapore’s “garden in a city initiative” has worked throughout the years to incorporate greenery into the city and most recently included the opening of “Jewel” the newest attraction in the Changi Airport complete with a forest, garden, play area, and the world’s largest indoor waterfall.

Apart from incorporating nature into its urban center, Singapore has pledged to tackle its problem on marine waste. According to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, marine pollution has impacted Singapore’s public health, food supply, industry and tourism. Therefore, he is committed to adopt ASEAN Framework of Action on Marine Debris that was formulated during the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok. The declaration provides views and practices on dealing with ocean waste and the acknowledgement of the “urgent need” to work together in addressing these issues.

Aside from marine waste, Singapore is facing challenges from waste management. In Singapore, nearly all non-recyclable waste is incinerated, and some solid waste are shipped to Pulau Semakau, an island landfill that doubles up as an eco-park and conservation area. However, landfills take up a lot of space, and Singapore cannot afford to make more of them. Given the circumstances, PM Lee pushes Singapore to become a zero-waste nation, by encouraging Singaporeans to reduce consumption of materials and reusing and recycling them to give them a second lease of life. To this end, Singapore will host the second ASEAN Climate Change Partnership Conference tentatively in August, following the first edition last year hoping it could address all these environmental issues.


Thailand is focusing on promoting its secondary locations to spread the wealth of the tourism industry, move from mass to sustainable tourism, and revive areas damaged by overtourism. Thailand’s Designated Areas Sustainable Tourism Administration (DASTA) and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council are working together to train 62 participants in sustainable destination assessment with regards to social, cultural, and environmental aspects. DASTA is currently developing sustainable tourism in nine areas made up of more than 700 communities including Bang Kachao, Sukhothai Historical Park, and the Mekong River.

The Thai Tourism Ministry is also working with NSTDA (National Science and Technology Development Agency) to cap the number of visitors allowed at tourist destinations. They will begin by studying eight tourist areas to see if the natural resources can support the environmental strain on each destination. In addition, they will create a sustainable tourism certification system conforming to Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) standards and prepare the National Guideline Carrying capacity of tourism sites within the mountains, seas, and cultural/historical areas. The study to determine the carrying capacity and preservation costs will take about a year, but the cooperation between the two groups will continue until the end of 2021.

To combat marine debris and waste, Thailand will also ban three type of plastic- microbeads, cap seals and oxo-degradable plastics- by the end of 2019 and will ban an additional four- lightweight plastic bags less than 36 microns thick, styrofoam food containers for takeaway, plastic cups, and plastic straws- by 2022.


Due to its rapid growth, Vietnam begins to contend with the environmental impacts of its burgeoning tourism sector. The focus so far has been diversifying tourism destinations to avoid overcrowding of major cities (Ha Noi, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Min City). However, the urgency in creating new destinations contributes to less sustainable operations.

The Vietnam Tourism Association launched an anti-plastic-waste action program this month. The Cham Islands’ Marine Protected Area management board and the International Union for Conservation of Nature have also created a garbage sorting program to reduce plastic waste. The program will collect information on plastic waste and offer policy suggestions in the future. Earlier this year, the islands banned the use of all plastic bags and encouraged people to stop using single use plastic straws and cups.

U Ming Ha National Park is being developed into an eco-tourism site with tours and hospitality services and is scheduled to be completed in 2025. Binh Thaun recently announced its plans to develop its tourism sector by diversifying its tourism products and creating new packages and was urged to focus on sustainability. The Ba Che District has also been singled out as a promising area for eco-tourism given its abundant natural resources and traditional culture.