CHIANG RAI, 11 January 2019: As we head off for the annual get together known as the ASEAN Tourism Forum, for a round of reunions with travel trade friends, it’s time to do a little homework on what ASEAN tourism intends to deliver during show week, 14 to 18 January, in the picturesque Halong Bay venue.
Presumably, one starting point to secure an advance briefing should be the official website Aseantourism.travel where we should be able to discover the latest travel ideas, content and trends on this dynamic 10-country region.
Check it out and be surprised how over the years it has declined to become the almost forgotten website shop front. It might herald the warmth of Southeast Asia’s travel experiences in its tagline, but its pages have a chilly neglected ambiance similar to a derelict mansion.
“ASEAN tourism – Southeast Asia feel the warmth” should be inspirational, timely, educational, updated and alive with new ideas. Sadly, the warmth has been dispelled by a frozen in time website that begs the question; Is anyone home?
Yes, the homepage announces the “latest news” as most websites do, but in this case the latest news on the official tourism site promoting ASEAN is a year old, a telling indicator of neglect.
It gets worse. Cruises, a theme spotlighted by ASEAN tourism leaders as a top priority, has its own page on the website with links to 12 editions of a newsletter ‘ASEAN Cruise News’ waiting to be downloaded. The latest edition no 12 is datelined December 2015. The project survived for just one year.
The well designed and colourful website, the showcase of ASEAN tourism, has a long list of 14 thematic categories, all topped up with features that readers should find inspirational, have over time been neglected by the webmaster.
The most recent features were posted a year ago and some sections languish with posts dating back three years. Online libraries packed with background features are fine as long as the curators also provide timely updates. Someone has gone missing and it shows in a lacklustre hollow ASEAN Travel website that is now probably guilty of providing inaccurate information due to a lack of updates.
Serious students of tourism will search in vain for statistics or trending data in an empty webpage category. Even the events section is blank lacking a mention of the flagship event, the ‘ASEAN Tourism Forum 2019’. Separate from the events category, the ATF does gain a link in an advertising style box, dropped there by a webmaster short of time.
But where are all the other iconic events that make up ASEAN’s tourism fabric? At least post the top 10 events from the 10 country members, or provide a link to full calendar information available on national tourism sites.
In its defence the homepage does have a functional booking engine for flights and hotels, powered by Wego. This white label entity presumably earns commission, or fee revenue to support the upkeep of the ASEAN travel website?
But that hardly justifies the site’s existence. Will top tourism officials meeting in Halong City later this month ask why this promising site has been dumped in a freezer? Very unlikely, as I would bet my last dollar that tourism leaders, who will meet in Halong Bay, have not bothered to visit this site. Hence the apparently neglect and the uninspiring message it sends will prevail, until a curator wakes from slumber.
The ASEAN Tourism Forum is full of fun and fanfare, but little substance. Projects are lined up conveniently pegged as “this year’s priority,” but whether they stand up to scrutiny and review a year later is often irrelevant. ATF is not about down-to-earth reality checks, but more the warm, touchy sentiments associated with an alumni reunion. At an enormous cost to the host country and the travel content sellers who invest in booths the ATF has slipped into the irrelevant role of a one-week wonder, a flurry of parties, selfies and handshakes.
In contrast the region’s flagship website, asseantourism.org, exists year-round and in its present state fails to present inspiration or timely information for visitors who bother to click and browse. It’s been forgotten dropping down the priority list to basement freezer. This apparent lack of commitment and investment in the site’s content is a testament to pedestrian and lacklustre endeavour. Aseantourism.travel deserves better.