The central problem for discussing public policy in Southeast Asia is that it is incredibly varied — politically, economically, linguistically, geographically, religiously, historically and in terms of the factors and processes by which tourism is being developed (Hitchcock, King and Parnwell, 1993).
Politically, the nations of Southeast Asia range from communist Vietnam and Laos to the despotic military junta which renamed Burma ‘Myanmar’ in l989. Economic systems range from socialist-lite, to state-controlled governments like Myanmar, to varying degrees of capitalist societies in the rest of the region. Languages and scripts are numerous within nations and among them.
Geographically, the range is from land-locked Laos to archipelagos like the Philippines and Indonesia with most of the nations having both mainland and islands.
Historically, most of the nations except Thailand have also experienced long periodsof colonialism (up to 400 years) from a variety of European powers. It is no wonder that their public bureaucracies and political cultures vary so much. Nor are their boundaries undisputed (Richter, 1993; Musa, 2003).
Thus, finding patterns of tourism policy-making in the midst of this variety of governmental experiences is very challenging. Still, some characteristics are obvious: top-down policy-making, some national planning, belated attention to environmental and indigenous factors and much corruption.
In the next section I provide a broad analysis of tourism public policy-making across three stages of development. Included are several policy decisions these nations confronted in their decision-making. Then in the subsequent section of the chapter several sustainability challenges to policy-makers will be examined. Finally, some of the aspects of the region's tourism will be noted that encourage cautious optimism.
STAGES OF TOURISM POLICY-MAKING
Colonial Tourism and Its Aftermath
Traditional rulers in these nations may have visited religious shrines or sought seasonal respite from the heat, but it was not until European conquests and colonization that discretionary travel as opposed to trading and pilgrimage flourished in Southeast Asia (Stockwell, 1993; Saunders, 1993; Douglas and Douglas, 2000). Linkages to that early era still persist in place names, museums, and in the histories.
Modern tourism existed from the post-World War I era but it was not until the independence of these countries (the Vietnam War in Thailand's case) and the arrival of the wide-bodied jet in the 1960s that international tourism became significant.