From the ‘stans’ in the west to Japan in the east, and Mongolia in the north to Indonesia in the south, Asia is one of the richest and most fascinating continents on earth. Lucie Robson writes.
In vibrant Asia ancient traditions rub shoulders with busy 21st century lifestyles, business is found right alongside pleasure, layers of cultural history are juxtaposed with world-class shopping and dining, and dynamic cities contrast with breathtaking tropical beaches.
With these features forming a fundamental part of the rich and varied tapestry that is Asia, there is plenty to offer travellers from the MENA region for both work and play.
According to the 2016 United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Annual Report on Asia Tourism Trends, Asia is one of the fastest growing tourism regions in the world, with leisure being the main reason for people to visit. Visitor numbers have grown almost three-fold since 2000, and by 2030, according to UNWTO Tourism Towards 2030 report, this figure will reach 535 million.
While the entire region is opening its arms to visitors and facilitating a memorable visitor experience, China is at the centre of current growth, with its ‘can do’ attitude expected to fuel an expansion in the sector in coming years.
“Shanghai is not only a global financial centre and transport hub, but also a tourism city. We have been seeing a positive and stable increase for our business year by year,” director of sales and marketing, Swissôtel Grand Shanghai, Cherry Wang told TTG. “To provide a home-away-from-home to guests, Swissôtel Grand Shanghai is always focusing on enhancing its services. Our latest initiative is the ‘Heartist Journey’.”
A play on the words Heart and Artist, Wang explains that the phrase epitomises mastering the fine art of welcoming through attentive service. “The Heartist Journey is about looking deeper, beyond traditional service, at the small feelings and details.”
This attention to detail is also evident in Beijing, where there has been a dramatic increase in travellers from the MENA region.
Director of marketing, Nuo Hotel, Cindy Zhu told TTG that the rise in guests from the region exceeds that of domestic and American visitors, and the hotel has been quick to react.
She elaborated: “The hotel has employed a chef from the Middle East to provide a Halal menu in hotel restaurants as well as specially-designed, culture-sensitive hotel actions, such as the removal of alcoholic beverages from rooms.”
As if China does not offer enough riches for visitors, it also boasts a hidden gem tropical paradise; Yalong Bay, overlooking the South China Sea.
“Reminiscent of the great developments that can be witnessed in the MENA region, Sanya has known unprecedented growth for the last 10 years,” multi-property vice president, The Ritz-Carlton Sanya, Yalong Bay, Hoss Vetry told TTG.
Vetry explained that Yalong Bay presents all the excitement and exploration of an undiscovered destination, while preserving a homey feel. And having lived and worked in Qatar for more than seven years, Vetry is well versed on the preferences and unique requirements of MENA guests.
“All our meat and poultry is Halal. As we strengthen this market segment, our goal is to meet even more of our MENA guests’ requirements. We are now looking at translating all our menus into Arabic, as well as hiring fully fluent Arabic speakers that could totally engage with our MENA guests and allow them to feel at home, even before they land.”
A professional butler is available 24/7, and the hotel provides a dedicated concierge service as well as a personal tour guide to Sanya’s tourism spots. “Because our MENA guests are so well versed and familiar with the Ritz-Carlton brand, they know they can find the same level of personalised service and attention wherever they go,” said Vetry.
But while there is fierce activity in China’s tourism sector, it is not just this big player influencing the exciting mix of experiences on offer in Asia. Neighbour Azerbaijan, which is already a key hub for visitors from the MENA region, is developing its tourist product to attract more visitors, and its efforts are paying off.
“In the last year, the number of visitors to our country increased by 25 per cent,” head of incoming department, Millenium Tourism, Punhan Ismayilzada told TTG.
Opening new hotels, entertainment centres and tourism agencies has boosted visitor numbers, while prestigious competitions such as Eurovision, the Islamic Games, the European games and Formula 1 have all helped increase Azerbaijan’s profile as an attractive tourist destination.
Ismayilzada added that Halal tourism is an important market sector, owing to the fact that most of the country’s visitors are from the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
Similar vibrant tourist activity is taking place far over the Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan. Marketing communication manager, The Ritz-Carlton in Almaty, Ayuna Koukshinova told TTG that the country’s incredible natural treasures were being promoted by the tourist authorities, especially stakeholders in the capital.
“Almaty has huge potential in terms of developing mountain tourism, thanks to its rich natural environment and the height and proximity of the mountains close to the city. This helps make Almaty an attractive destination for visitors from around the world,” she said.
Part of a regional tourism development drive, other areas of natural beauty which are part of the programme include Dzungarian Alatau and Kolsay Koldery national parks, and the Kara Dala hot spring resort.
Making travel to this beautiful country simple is also of prime concern for the authorities, Koukshinova said. “This year a Concept for the Development of Tourism through 2023 was adopted, which covers a whole range of issues including visas, developing infrastructure, involving business and providing state support for the sector.”
Kazakhstan is already a comfortable place for MENA visitors owing to similarities in cultural, religious and moral values. Despite this common ground, MENA visitors still come to the country expecting something different – and they find it.
“Here, they have the opportunity to ski on real snow and enjoy other mountain sports. Playing golf at top quality courses, hunting and enjoying the local cuisine are just some of the vast range of activities tourists come to enjoy.”
There is no escaping how impressive China is in the tranche of tourism either. China’s drive to develop specialist tourism is taking in the entire country, introducing formerly little-known areas that boast stunning natural beauty to visitors.
Director of marketing and communications, Waldorf Astoria, Chengdu, Sally Xie told TTG that agrotourism was on the rise. “Natural and cultural tourism is significantly expanding Chengdu’s international visibility,” she said.
Armed with a melting pot of vibrant cultures, incredible cuisine and fascinating sights to be seen, Asia’s tourism industry is stronger than ever before.