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Asean Countries Seek More Visitors Closer To Home

Passenger queue up at the airport check-in at Bangkok International airport, in Bangkok, Thailand. Already, some 70 million come to the Southeast Asia region for travel, with approximately 10 million from China, Japan and South Korea.

With Europe mired in economic woes, Asean tourism officials said Tuesday they hope to promote visits from within the region as well as Asia to help grow the sector in coming years.

"Now our focus is Asean and partners Korea, Japan, China, and India as well," Jero Wacik, Indonesia's tourism minister, told reporters following a 10th annual tourism conference in Phnom Penh. "If these countries come to Asean, it will give us revenue."

European countries, traditionally a large source of visitors, have yet to recover from the financial crisis, he said. "That's why we focus on Asean, plus three members, plus one, as our main market."

Officials would like to see 87 million visitors traveling across Southeast Asia by 2015. Already, some 70 million come to the region for travel, with approximately 10 million from China, Japan and South Korea.

With the improvement of infrastructure, that number could reach as high as 90 million by 2015, said Sunram Pushpanathan, deputy secretary-general for Asean. That goal would mean "regional products, joint marketing, building up human resources and accelerating trade facilitation," he said.

Cambodian Tourism Minister Thong Khon said Asean countries were considering adding more direct flights to the "three tigers in Asia" to lure more visitors.

South Korea counted 3 million outbound visitors to Asean countries last year, while it brought in approximately 1 million from the region, said Mo Chul Min, South Korea's vice minister for Culture, Sports and Tourism. More direct flights would increase those numbers, he said. Direct flights from Seoul to Siem Reap, for example, provided 200,000 Korean visitors to Cambodia, he said.

Lin Shan, director general of China's tourism administration, said he envisioned further cooperation in areas like tourism product manufacturing, itinerary design and an "improved tourism environment."