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The Chinese sneezed and south-east asian tourism caught cold

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PHOTO: asia.nikkei.com

Things have gone a bit quiet on the tourist front. Thai authorities and people affected by the downturn are wringing their hands as the rise and rise of tourism in the Land of Smiles has seen it first sustained reversal in fortunes for two decades.

But it’s not just in Thailand. It’s not as if the tourists are suddenly going somewhere else. According to industry analysts compiling information for Bloomberg, it’s happening across Asia. It seems the domestic angst over China’s economic challenges and weakening Yuan are causing rumbles across Southeast Asia’s vacation belt.

Where are the Chinese tourists?!

Rising incomes over the past decade fuelled the travel intentions of middle class Chinese. Suddenly they were the world’s largest outbound travel market in the world. The total number of outbound trips from China more than doubled from 57 million in 2010 to 131 million trips in 2017.

When China sneezes the rest of Asia catches cold

The Chinese outbound travel boom over the past 5-10 years that stoked a huge uptick in tourist numbers across Southeast Asia, is now in reverse gear, according to Bloomberg. This decline of travellers from the largest source market in the world has become a painful lesson for south east nations such as Thailand and Indonesia that became overly dependent on Asia’s top economy.

Kampon Adireksombat, Bangkok-based head of economic and financial market research at Siam Commercial Bank says that the slump in Chinese arrivals and spending is being felt throughout the region.

“There’s always a concentration risk when relying on one market, and many countries may not be able to find a replacement for growth fast enough.”

The slump is expected to drag into 2020 if the ongoing China-US trade war continues to weigh down the Chinese economy.

Mandarin-speaking tours, Chinese menus at restaurants, Chinese-signed tour buses and special Chinese immigration queues mushroomed from Danang to Yogyakarta, Phuket to Ho Chi Minh City. The travellers thronged to South east Asia tourist hotspots, lured by their proximity and exotic cultures.

The tour operators, developers, hotels and retailers responded and leapt into action. The demand was sudden and everyone wanted to make sure they could get their slice of the Chinese pie.

The slowdown of outbound tourists now threatens the south-east Asian tourism industry – the investors, the staff, the owners, the people that have bought tour boats, the businesses that have built new theme parks – in some cases the fall-out will be catastrophic. For those that bet too heavily on the Chinese tourism racehorse, the losses will be dramatic.

In many of the countries that saw a big rise in tourist numbers out of China over the past decade, the result is a big oversupply of hotel rooms, particularly in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Companies and local governments doubled down and poured millions of dollars into expanding resorts, hotels, infrastructure and travel facilities. In Thailand airport expansion became a constant hassle for travellers in the last decade.

Thailand’s Central Plaza Hotel Group reported a softening of its hotel business in Q2 2019 due to softening Chinese demand. Occupancy in its Thai properties dropped 7% in the quarter, and the Bangkok-based operator has 2,040 rooms in the pipeline ready to add to its existing portfolio of 6,678 rooms.

They’re just one of the larger hotel groups that have added rooms that will now remain quiet. But some of the development is now completed or almost completed, being rubber stamped before the downturn started.

Bangkok is also expecting a new Ritz Carlton in 2023 as part of a $3.9 billion development, while Hilton will manage two hotels due for 2022 opening. On Phuket, a favorite for beachfront weddings and scuba diving, there will be 18% more hotel rooms by 2024, according to consultancy C9 Hotelworks.

In the past two decades the annual growth in tourists coming to Thailand has averaged 7-12%, year in year out. Now international arrivals in Thailand have grown only 2% this year, not a catastrophe but certainly a downturn.

And the growth hasn’t been restricted to Thailand. In Singapore, casino operators Las Vegas Sands and Genting Singapore announced a US$9 billion expansion of their resorts earlier this year on the back of the success of Hollywood film “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Marriott International has 140 hotels in the pipeline across the region, with plans to more than triple its portfolio by 2023 in the Philippines. Chinese travellers became the biggest group of visitors to Malaysia, adding US$403.7 billion to the Malaysian GDP in 2019.

These large developers have bet on the slump being short-term and that the tourists will eventually come back when the sentiment in the world economy returns to ‘growth’.

In Thailand and the Philippines, tourism grew to account for over 20% of their GDP, twice the global average, and perhaps an unhealthy reliance on the fickly tourist dollar.

But after every boom, follows a downturn. At this stage there has been no ‘bust’ as the drop in Chinese tourists across the region is being replaced by new and emerging tourism feeder markets. But south-east Asia’s countries are now trying to diversify their outreach efforts to reduce their dependence on one or two key markets.

Thailand waived visa fees for Indian tourists earlier this year and airline and hotel operators are trying to boost connections between the two countries. There are new airlines in the pipeline ready to add flights.

Vietnam, where Chinese tourists accounted for a third of 15 million foreign visitors last year, is setting up tourism promotion offices in the UK and Australia, while direct flights between India and Vietnam are being planned.

But, so far, the replacement of other markets has not overcome the hole left by the Chinese. Well, not yet anyway.

The other caveat on all this doom and gloom, and a warning to the doomsayers who think that tourism in countries like Thailand is ‘over’… the trade war WILL be over at some stage, the Thai baht will drop against other currencies, changes will be made in reaction to the drop in numbers. Phuket’s beaches will still be there, Da Nang will still have lovely weather and Angkor Wat will not be going anywhere.

After every sunset is another sunrise.

SOURCE: Bloomberg

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Indonesia

“Not ordinary rain” – Jakarta floods break records, 21 dead

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PHOTO: Arsi Agnitasari/The Jakarta Post

At least 21 people are now thought to have lost their lives in the flash floods and landslides in and around Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, today. More heavy rain is forecast, compounding the situation. The victims have ranged in age from 8 to 82 years of age. The heavy rains stated falling on Jakarta and nearby towns on December 31 and then continued into New Year’s Day.

The country’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency measured an astonishing 377 millimetres of rainfall in a single day at an airport in East Jakarta. The measurement is the most rain in a single day since at least 1996, the year the agency started recording measurements.

“The rain falling on New Year’s Eve… is not ordinary rain.”

The flood, one of the deadliest in years, has already displaced more than 30,000 people causing chaos across parts of the south east Asia’s metropolis. Train lines have been blocked and power has been lost for many hours in some areas.

image

GRAPHIC: Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo says that evacuation and safety procedures should be prioritised, but called for more coordination between city administrations with the central government. He’s already blamed delays in flood control infrastructure projects for the flooding, saying some projects have been delayed since 2017 due to land acquisition problems.

Jakarta and its suburbs are home to over 30 million people. More than 50 people died in one of the capital’s deadliest floods in 12 years ago and 5 years ago much of the centre of the city was inundated after canals overflowed.

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Top 10 must-see towns in Asia

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Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | The Thaiger

Tropical nights, curious mountain silhouettes, sprawling rice paddies and pungent cuisine. And some snow-topped mountains as well. The Thaiger has selected the Top Ten of these camera-worthy towns. Southern Asia is a concoction of the ancient, very modern, traditional and enigmatic.

Amongst the islands, megacities and spectacular scenery there are also some very pretty towns that deserve your days pottering around and investigating. Some of them you would have never heard of. Here’s our Top Ten, in no particular oder…

Old Phuket Town, Thailand

Most tourists head for the beaches, but the southern Thai island of Phuket offers a lot, lot more these days up and down the west coast and across to the island’s east coast as well, not just Patong.

The historic old quarter of Old Phuket Town, located in the central east coast of the island, is lined with Sino-Portugeuse colonial shophouses, built during the island’s tin-mining boom of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Twenty years ago you couldn’t give them away. Now the old shop-houses are hot property and getting spruced up and re-used for a new generation of tourists and culture vultures. There are plenty of hip shops, cafés, restaurants, bars, art galleries and book shops. The area is also filled with Chinese temples, crumbling mansions and cultural museums.

Check out the weekly Sunday night ‘Lard Yai’ market along Thalang road for some local market vibes in amongst some local ephemera, astonishing Thai street food, some local performers and a few bargains. Kicks off around 4pm. If it rains during the island’s wet season (May to November), you’ll get wet but it’s always around 30 degrees C and you can duck undercover anywhere around the Old Town’s sidewalks.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

Galle, Sri Lanka

On the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka is the walled town of Galle, an important trade port for centuries.

The UNESCO-listed fortress has been through three bouts of colonial rule – the Portuguese from 1505-1658, the Dutch from 1658-1796 and the British from 1796-1948. These days, many of the old merchant houses are renovated into museums, boutique hotels, shops, restaurants and bars.

The dining scene has grown in breadth and popularity, with fresh seafood, excellent Sri Lankan curries and egg hoppers (dome-like pancakes).

There’s also plenty to see as you walk off all that food. The Dutch Reformed Church, Sudharmalaya Temple, Galle Clock Tower, Galle Lighthouse, Meeran Mosque and the old Spice Warehouse.

Then head down the southern coastline to enjoy the surf, diving, whale-watching or just laying around Unawatuna Beach.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

City of Vigan, Philippines

Experience a rich history of Spanish colonial-era architecture in the city of Vigan. It lies on the west coast of Luzon island in northwestern Philippines. Vigan was established by the Spanish in 1572. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage City.

Conquistador Juan de Salcedo developed a modern grid plan for the city, and Spanish architects designed beautiful churches, grand mansions and schools with unique windows and dark timber interiors.

Most of the colonial buildings are situated around the Plaza Salcedo, including the St Paul’s Cathedral. This beautiful Baroque structure was first built in 1641 and then restored after several earthquakes and fires.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

Hoi An, Vietnam

Located on the central coast of Vietnam, about 40 minutes drive south of Da Nang, Hoi An’s Old Town has an international reputation as a haven for photographers, architecture lovers and lovers of food. Added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1999, the town was a former French colonial trading port that has been a commercially vital town for Vietnam since the 16th century. It’s now more important to Vietnam as a commercially vital tourist magnet.

The rambling narrow streets of Hoi An feature rows and rows of charming mustard coloured old trading houses. Many are now trendy restaurants, bars, design boutiques, coffee shops and tailors. Seemingly with a production designer preparing the town as a set for a ‘colonial asian’ movie, lush foliage spills from the rooftops and silk lanterns light up the town at night. It’s right out of a picture book.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

George Town, Malaysia

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the sprawling historic quarter of George Town on Penang island showcases its many cultural influences over the centuries. You’ll also find some similarity with Phuket’s Old Town, just 600 kilometres north, but with a broader cuisine and more colonial influence.

George Town’s colourful heritage traces back 500 years when the former British colony was a prominent hub of trade on the Malacca Strait, enabling cultural exchange between Malay, Chinese, Indian and European residents. The town still resinates with influences from all of these cultures.

There is an eclectic mix of pastel-hued shophouses, Chinese mansions, churches and temples, colonial buildings, food and fortresses.

George Town deserves its reputation as the “food capital of Malaysia” and remains one of the best food cities in Asia – from street food to hawker centres, chintzy local restaurants to fully renovated mansions serving up high end fusion cuisine. Like the architecture, the local cuisine captures George Town’s multicultural history.

If you’re heading to George Town, take your appetite.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

Luang Prabang, Laos

The former capital of Laos on the banks of the Mekong River, is the picturesque Luang Prabang, home to temples and dramatic natural scenery.

It’s either one of Southeast Asia’s most spiritual places or an emerging party town for the backpacker set, or both. Either way Luang Prabang makes a dramatic first impression.

The town is hugged by mountains as it rests at the bottom of a valley in central Laos. The location was the first kingdom in Laos from the 14th to 16th centuries, Luang Prabang was long a strategic location along the famed Silk Route. Since then the French have also had their time as colonial overlords which has resulted in a fusion of European and Laotian architecture creating a distinct townscape.

Although Vientiane, on the Thai border, is now the capital, Luang Prabang, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, continues to be the country’s cultural and artistic capital.

In addition to the graceful architecture, Luang Prabang is also home to beautiful natural attractions including the Kuang Si Waterfalls and Phousi Mountain. There are also more than 30 Buddhist temples, the Royal Palace Museum, night markets, river boat rides and biking tours.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

Kampot, Cambodia

Think Cambodia and you automatically think ‘Angkor Wat’, but Cambodian travellers are falling in love with the southern charms of Kampot.

The serene coastal town, on the southern coast along the Gulf of Thailand, is getting a reputation as one of the prettiest small towns in the region. Think colourful French colonial shophouses, tidy pedestrian-friendly streets, river activities and a feast for the cameras. You can spend your days kayaking, mountain trekking, biking, river cruises, paddle-boarding, or you could take a day trip through the countryside’s lush paddy fields, cave temples and waterfalls.

Kampot has a growing foodie reputation as a culinary playground with everything from traditional Khmer cuisine to vegan delights. The town still has a bit of a ‘rough’ reputation but is well worth a visit and certainly deserves its place amongst the top ten prettiest towns in Asia.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

Kota Gede, Indonesia

Among the oldest parts of Yogyakarta in central Java, Kota Gede is known for its silver industry, cute laneways and photogenic architecture.

The location’s history goes back to the 15th century, when Yogjakarta was the seat of the Mataram Sultanate, the last kingdom before the Dutch colonised Java island. Wealthy merchants built palatial homes in the Kalang style, a mix of Dutch structural elements, traditional Javanese layouts and local craftsmanship.

Travellers in the 21st century can now walk along Jalan Kemasan and browse through boutiques, art galleries and silver workshops showcasing the famous jewellery and elaborate tableware. For a little history, travellers can also venture out to Yogyakarta’s most famous UNESCO-listed landmarks – the Prambanan Temple and the eighth-century Borobudur Temple.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

Mawlynnong, India

In amongst one of the world’s most chaotic and messy countries, lies Mawlynnong, located in the East Khasi Hills of northeastern India, which has been named the “Cleanest Village in Asia”. Go figure!

The village lives up to its reputation thanks to the Khasi community who call the town ‘home’ and take great pride in keeping the village pristine. The town is famous for its meticulously pruned gardens.

There’s a popular 85 foot high tree house called Sky View constructed of bamboo that overlooks the jungle canopies all the way across the plains of Bangladesh to the south. There’s also the Mawlynnong Waterfall, while a living tree root bridge creating a scene from Game of Thrones or an Indiana Jones movie.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

Ghandruk, Nepal

Ghandruk is a mountain village at the foothills of the Himalayas in central Nepal. The village is more than 2,000 metres above sea level, the highest in our Top Ten list.

The village is about a five-hour hike from Pokhara, a pretty lakeside city in central Nepal that acts as the starting point for the popular Annapurna Circuit (and also worthy of a visit for a few days).

You’ll find traditional tea houses, a mountain-top temple, horseback riding and the local customs of the Gurung people who live here.

Members of this Nepalese community have served in the British Army’s Gurkha regiments during many conflicts and you should make time to visit the Old Gurung Museum which provides lots of fascinating historical insights.

And the village has quite a spectacular backdrop with Mounts Annapurna, Machhapuchhre and Himalchuli looming large as you look over your shoulder.

Top 10 must-see towns in Asia | News by The Thaiger

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Indonesia

Indonesian suicide bomber wounds six, dozens arrested in Sumatra

Greeley Pulitzer

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Indonesian suicide bomber wounds six, dozens arrested in Sumatra | The Thaiger

Dozens of suspected militants have been rounded up after a suicide bomber killed himself and wounded six others in a police station attack in Indonesia. Around 45 suspects have been arrested since Wednesday’s bombing in Medan, Sumatra, while two bomb-makers were shot dead during a raid.

A National Police spokesman told reporters in Jakarta that the pair resisted arrest and tried to attack police with sharp weapons and an air gun. They had built the low-intensity bomb that the 24 year old attacker strapped to his body.

Authorities earlier thought the bomber was a “lone wolf” after the blast that wounded four police officers and two civilians.

Meanwhile, state-owned airport operator Angkasa Pura II tightened security in 19 airports in the wake of similar incidents on November 13.

Indonesia is the the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation, and has long struggled with Islamist militancy. Police stations remain frequent targets for militant attacks.

About 20 other suspects arrested since the bombing, including the bomber’s wife and their religious mentor who both played, what police describe as, “direct roles” in the attack and had links to Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, an acknowledged Islamist terrorist organisation.

JAD is a local extremist group aligned with ISIS which has made previous attacks, including suicide bombings at several churches last year that killed a dozen parishioners.

“The wife together with her husband (the bomber) were known members of JAD. They also attended military camp training, and learned how to buy guns and sharp weapons,” according to the police spokesman.

Some residents in Medan protested plans to bury the bomber’s body there.

Last month, Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered beefed-up security after two JAD-linked militants stabbed his chief security minister.

Indonesia, a nation of more than 260 million, has significant numbers of religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus and Buddhists, who have been targeted by radical Islamist groups amid concerns about rising intolerance.

SOURCE: The ASEAN Post

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