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ASEAN Framework on Sustainable Tourism in the Post-COVID era

The COVID-19 crisis not only impacted the health sector but also posed challenges to the economy as well. One of the major sectors that was hit hard by the COVID crisis and the lockdown was the tourism sector. In the post- COVID period, almost all regions of the world have been devising strategies for rebuilding sustainable tourism in the post COVID era. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) – a political and economic union of 10 Member States of South Asia – aspires to make the South Asian region “a quality tourist destination” that offers a unique and diverse ASEAN experience and is committed to sustainable tourism development. The ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan 2016-2025 (ATSP 2016-2025) spelled out two strategic directions namely: (i) enhance the competitiveness of ASEAN as a single tourism destination; and (ii) ensure that ASEAN tourism is sustainable and inclusive, on which the ASEAN tourism initiatives are anchored. Sustainable and inclusive tourism is to be promoted through (i) upgrading of community and private sector participation in tourism value chain; (ii) safety, security, and protection of tourism and heritage assets; and (iii) increasing responsiveness to environment and climate change.

As a collective effort towards realising this vision, the ASEAN Tourism Ministers have endorsed the ASEAN Framework on Sustainable Tourism Development in the Post-COVID-19 Era with the support of the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA).
The framework identifies focus areas and seeks to capitalise on the work that is already being undertaken by the tourism sector and other relevant sectors in the ASEAN Community particularly in the years leading up to 2025 and beyond.

The long-term vision of the Framework is to establish “an ASEAN region that is recognised as a quality sustainable tourism destination, which promotes the economic prosperity, welfare and engagement of the local community; protects and develops its natural environment and culture; and provides a high-quality experience to responsible and sustainable minded visitors/tourists”. The Framework identifies its overarching operational goal as continuing to promote the growth and development of the tourism sector, as a critical contributor to overall economic growth and development, but with a strong awareness of and focus on the environmental and socio-cultural impacts of tourism activities and resolving to undertake initiatives to reduce tourism’s adverse footprint on the environment and communities and enhance the environment and communities’ well-being.

The Framework identifies the key pillars along with their strategic priorities. The first pillar is sustainable economic growth. The strategic priorities of this pillars are sustainable tourism policy development, promotion of green investment, investment in physical and digital infrastructure and sustainability as part of marketing campaign. The second pillar is social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction. The strategic priorities of this pillar entail creating more quality jobs in the tourism sector, addressing special vulnerabilities faced by women, targeted interventions for more sustainable locally driven Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and develop public-private community partnership and mechanisms to engage and empower local communities.

The third pillar is resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change. The strategic priorities of this pillar are a thrust on low carbon and efficient use of resources, environment protection, ecosystem preservation and biodiversity conservation and mitigating the effects of climate change. The fourth pillar is cultural values, diversity and heritage. Under this pillar, the strategic priorities are promoting and enhancing diverse cultures through cultural tourism, safeguarding tangible and intangible cultural heritage and promoting living culture and the creative industries. The fifth and the final pillar is mutual understanding and peace, health safety and security. The strategic priorities identified in this pillar are management of security issues to reinforce the reputation of the region as a secure destination, planning for crisis preparedness, multi hazard risk management and enhanced communication/partnership and harnessing international initiatives for sharing of information.

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