Buddhist tourism has strong growth potential in South-east Asia, but more needs to be done in order to develop this sector.
Home to an estimated 156 million Buddhists, South-east Asia is “replete with Buddhist religious activities, ceremonies and festivals”, as well as “many cultural, architectural and historical monuments and relics”, according to Victor Wee, secretary-general of ASEAN Tourism Research Association (ATRA), which comprises 16 public and private universities in South-east Asia.
However, Wee said that there has not been much attempt to consider how Buddhist sites and relics across the region could be used to develop and promote tourism centred on Buddhism.
These findings were part of an ongoing study on Buddhist tourism on eight countries in South-east Asia – with the exception of Brunei and the Philippines – which was presented by ATRA to South-east Asian NTOs at ATF in Halong Bay last week. The complete findings are expected to be published later this year.
Wee elaborated: “(The study) examined the programmes, policies and infrastructure that could be developed in order to capitalise on their tangible and intangible heritage of Buddhism.”
The study also examined destination management strategies at iconic sites to relieve congestion and improve sustainability in terms of tourism dispersal strategies; carrying capacity; and management of visitor impacts.
It also gave recommendations on what was needed for Buddhist tourism to gain traction in the region. This included the training of tourist guides to equip them with better and in-depth storytelling; development and improvement of infrastructure and amenities without causing negative impact to local communities and the environment; and sustainable development of tourism attractions, products and services.
Wee added that the study will form part of the UNWTO study on Buddhist tourism in Asia, adding to the growing religious tourism research the global tourism body has undertaken in the region.