Five reasons Middle Easterners are looking to ASEAN

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Arabs in ThailandOver the past decade, ties between the Middle East and Southeast Asia have strengthened significantly, which has led to an influx of tourists from the Gulf.

By Cooper Philip Temple

In 2013, based on a report from TTG Asia, an Asia-Pacific travel news site, tourists from the Middle East were identified as “notching the highest spend and staying the longest at an average of 8.1 nights” in the ASEAN region.

Here are five industries Middle Eastern tourists are attracted to in ASEAN:

1. Medical Tourism

Many Middle Eastern tourists are increasingly looking to nations like Malaysia and Thailand for high-quality medical care at lower costs than the services offered at home or in Western nations. According to the Business and Tourism Guide Series, a Dubai-based travel guide covering the Middle East, “tour operators are now offering health tourism packages to Malaysia offering medical screening and other premium medical treatments at reasonable prices for Middle East visitors to Malaysia.”

The growing region can offer dependable care, and with a common religion tying the areas together, namely Sunni Islam believers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, people from the Middle East can feel confident that their beliefs will be respected.

Some new startups, such as TraveDoc are targeting this medical tourism demographic specifically. The purpose of the app, says their website, is to provide care “for people who need a doctor, dentist, or specialist in a new country, literally connecting doctors and patients around the globe.” The company was launched in Ghana, but quickly expanded to Singapore and is now focusing on ASEAN and the Middle East.

2. Cultural Tourism

As the Middle East continues to grow, middle-class families are finding themselves with greater disposable income and the ability to travel. According to The Diplomat, “After the September 11 tragedy, there was a shift in travel by Middle Eastern tourists from the West…to other parts of the world…[and] it was found that Middle Easterners spent more time and money on their sightseeing visits than any other ethnic group.”

Companies like HalalTrip, based in Singapore, seek to capitalize on this new trend by providing safe and comfortable experiences for Muslims traveling abroad.

“Our vision,” says the company’s website, “is to become the trusted trip advisor for Muslim travelers around the globe by making place discovery and trip planning easier, fun and more intuitive for those looking for a halal-friendly travel experience.”

3. Education

The disproportionately young populations of Middle Eastern nations have created a market for services offered to youth—such as higher education.

“Over 35,000 foreign students from as many as 100 different countries,” writes the Business and Tourism Guide Series, “are currently studying in Malaysia at one of the many premier internationally recognised education institutions.”

Students seeking study-abroad opportunities frequently choose Southeast Asia as an ideal destination; nearly 7 per cent of foreign students in Malaysia alone originate from Saudi Arabia, according to Arab News. In fact, the Middle East contributes heavily to the total amount of students in Southeast Asia. Based on a UNESCO report, Malaysia is home to over 8,000 students from Iran, 3,000 from Yemen, and 1,700 from Iraq.

4. Agricultural Prospects

For several years, some Gulf nations have had contracts with Southeast Asian nations, whereby the two regions exchange products such as food and oil. Saudi Arabia sells oil to Southeast Asia, and in return, buys food. Much of the Middle East is composed of dry, arid lands unsuitable for the levels of crop production needed to sustain a country’s population growth.

According to a recent World Bank study cited in Albawaba, “GCC countries import on average 90 per cent of their food consumption. Qatar leads the dependency ranking, with 97 per cent of its food being imported.”

Because of this dependence on external food production, Gulf nations seek out more agriculturally abundant countries, including the ASEAN region, and offer to export oil in exchange for crops.

According to the GCC Trade and Investment Flows report written by The Economist Intelligence Unit, farmland in ASEAN has increasingly become a point of interest for GCC sovereign wealth funds. Food is a necessity that ensures a steady flow of Middle Eastern investors into Asia.

5. Investment Hub

Rather than continue to focus on Western financial sectors, many Arab investors have turned to the growing markets of ASEAN economies.

According to the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based organisation focused on the study of the Middle East, “Southeast Asian countries are strategically well-positioned to serve as financial and as petrochemicals and refining hubs to feed Asian markets; moreover, the ASEAN region’s middle classes are growing and its demand for oil is rising.”

Southeast Asian nations are aware of the investment trend and have begun to focus energy on recruiting financiers from the Gulf, with efforts including sending representatives to the GCC in order to convince potential companies to take the plunge.

Singapore and Malaysia are particularly popular candidates for foreign direct investment from the Gulf due to their ease of access for investors and rapidly advancing technology.

The writer is a research intern at Investvine.

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Over the past decade, ties between the Middle East and Southeast Asia have strengthened significantly, which has led to an influx of tourists from the Gulf. By Cooper Philip Temple In 2013, based on a report from TTG Asia, an Asia-Pacific travel news site, tourists from the Middle East were identified as “notching the highest spend and staying the longest at an average of 8.1 nights” in the ASEAN region. Here are five industries Middle Eastern tourists are attracted to in ASEAN: 1. Medical Tourism Many Middle Eastern tourists are increasingly looking to nations like Malaysia and Thailand for high-quality...

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Arabs in ThailandOver the past decade, ties between the Middle East and Southeast Asia have strengthened significantly, which has led to an influx of tourists from the Gulf.

By Cooper Philip Temple

In 2013, based on a report from TTG Asia, an Asia-Pacific travel news site, tourists from the Middle East were identified as “notching the highest spend and staying the longest at an average of 8.1 nights” in the ASEAN region.

Here are five industries Middle Eastern tourists are attracted to in ASEAN:

1. Medical Tourism

Many Middle Eastern tourists are increasingly looking to nations like Malaysia and Thailand for high-quality medical care at lower costs than the services offered at home or in Western nations. According to the Business and Tourism Guide Series, a Dubai-based travel guide covering the Middle East, “tour operators are now offering health tourism packages to Malaysia offering medical screening and other premium medical treatments at reasonable prices for Middle East visitors to Malaysia.”

The growing region can offer dependable care, and with a common religion tying the areas together, namely Sunni Islam believers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, people from the Middle East can feel confident that their beliefs will be respected.

Some new startups, such as TraveDoc are targeting this medical tourism demographic specifically. The purpose of the app, says their website, is to provide care “for people who need a doctor, dentist, or specialist in a new country, literally connecting doctors and patients around the globe.” The company was launched in Ghana, but quickly expanded to Singapore and is now focusing on ASEAN and the Middle East.

2. Cultural Tourism

As the Middle East continues to grow, middle-class families are finding themselves with greater disposable income and the ability to travel. According to The Diplomat, “After the September 11 tragedy, there was a shift in travel by Middle Eastern tourists from the West…to other parts of the world…[and] it was found that Middle Easterners spent more time and money on their sightseeing visits than any other ethnic group.”

Companies like HalalTrip, based in Singapore, seek to capitalize on this new trend by providing safe and comfortable experiences for Muslims traveling abroad.

“Our vision,” says the company’s website, “is to become the trusted trip advisor for Muslim travelers around the globe by making place discovery and trip planning easier, fun and more intuitive for those looking for a halal-friendly travel experience.”

3. Education

The disproportionately young populations of Middle Eastern nations have created a market for services offered to youth—such as higher education.

“Over 35,000 foreign students from as many as 100 different countries,” writes the Business and Tourism Guide Series, “are currently studying in Malaysia at one of the many premier internationally recognised education institutions.”

Students seeking study-abroad opportunities frequently choose Southeast Asia as an ideal destination; nearly 7 per cent of foreign students in Malaysia alone originate from Saudi Arabia, according to Arab News. In fact, the Middle East contributes heavily to the total amount of students in Southeast Asia. Based on a UNESCO report, Malaysia is home to over 8,000 students from Iran, 3,000 from Yemen, and 1,700 from Iraq.

4. Agricultural Prospects

For several years, some Gulf nations have had contracts with Southeast Asian nations, whereby the two regions exchange products such as food and oil. Saudi Arabia sells oil to Southeast Asia, and in return, buys food. Much of the Middle East is composed of dry, arid lands unsuitable for the levels of crop production needed to sustain a country’s population growth.

According to a recent World Bank study cited in Albawaba, “GCC countries import on average 90 per cent of their food consumption. Qatar leads the dependency ranking, with 97 per cent of its food being imported.”

Because of this dependence on external food production, Gulf nations seek out more agriculturally abundant countries, including the ASEAN region, and offer to export oil in exchange for crops.

According to the GCC Trade and Investment Flows report written by The Economist Intelligence Unit, farmland in ASEAN has increasingly become a point of interest for GCC sovereign wealth funds. Food is a necessity that ensures a steady flow of Middle Eastern investors into Asia.

5. Investment Hub

Rather than continue to focus on Western financial sectors, many Arab investors have turned to the growing markets of ASEAN economies.

According to the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based organisation focused on the study of the Middle East, “Southeast Asian countries are strategically well-positioned to serve as financial and as petrochemicals and refining hubs to feed Asian markets; moreover, the ASEAN region’s middle classes are growing and its demand for oil is rising.”

Southeast Asian nations are aware of the investment trend and have begun to focus energy on recruiting financiers from the Gulf, with efforts including sending representatives to the GCC in order to convince potential companies to take the plunge.

Singapore and Malaysia are particularly popular candidates for foreign direct investment from the Gulf due to their ease of access for investors and rapidly advancing technology.

The writer is a research intern at Investvine.

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