During this World Economic Forum on East Asia 2012, Gerald Lawless, Co Chair of the Meeting, took the time to answer some of Forum:Blog’s questions about how he sees the future of Shaping East Asia.

Despite a cooling global economy, East Asia has continued to show promise for growth. How has the tourism industry contributed to this opportunity?

There is a large amount of intraregional tourism in Asia and this is increasing year on year, particularly with the growth in outbound travel from China throughout the rest of the region. Also, generally in East Asia, the level of exposure to financial insecurity that has been experienced in the West is much lower, and therefore the regional economy is still on a much sounder footing. The consequent growth in the number of people with disposable income has a direct impact on travel and tourism as these are very popular activities, particularly in economies with a rapidly emerging middle class. It is also worth recalling that travel and tourism are a significant source of employment. In fact, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that 98 million people worldwide are employed in this sector – a sector that has an economic impact of around US$ 6.3 trillion, or 9.1% of the world’s gross domestic product. So, the opportunity for East Asia to contribute to and benefit from travel and tourism remains strong.

There are many parts of East Asia that have not yet reached their full potential. What emerging markets do you see in the region?

From my limited knowledge of the region, I would imagine that countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have yet to see the benefits of a fully developed travel and tourism industry. I expect that there is great potential for further growth – and with it, the generation of new jobs and prosperity.

How can East Asia balance an expanding tourism industry with the ensuing environmental challenges?

The travel and tourism industry recognizes its responsibility with respect to environmental and ecological issues. However, the economic benefit of travel and tourism helps to sustain better practices within the environment, particularly when high employment, security and wealth can lead to a more responsible approach to ecological issues where citizens can afford to introduce more environmentally-friendly equipment and innovations into their daily lives.

You are involved in the session “Driving Growth through Travel and Tourism”; what transitions do you think will be proposed for East Asian tourism in 2012?

We certainly intend to go forward with the electronic visa, or eVisa, and the Freedom to Travel initiative, which has been put forward by the World Economic Forum along with the United Nations World Travel Organization and the WTTC. I see this as a huge contributor to easier travel across the globe. Cambodia and Myanmar have already introduced eVisa systems – however, a regional approach to this technology would certainly help East Asia and its constituent countries stand out as tourist destinations. Some of the key transitions to look out for are the ongoing growth of the Chinese market and innovations such as the introduction of gaming to the Singapore market.

What other long-term propositions would you like to see come out of this discussion?

The key long-term proposition would be the introduction of eVisas throughout the world. I believe that ASEAN is in a strong position to lead the way on this initiative and we look forward to some robust and constructive discussions on this topic over the next few days.

Author: Gerald Lawless – Graduate, Shannon College of Hotel Management, Ireland. 23 years with Forte Hotels. 1997, joined Jumeirah, one of the premier luxury hotel brands in the world. Member of the Executive Committee, World Travel and Tourism Council. Vice-Chairman, Aviation, Travel and Tourism Council, World Economic Forum. Fellow Member, Institute of Hospitality. Non-Executive Director, Travelodge Board, representing Dubai Holding. Chairman of the Board of Governors, Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management. Honorary Doctor of Business Administration in Hospitality Management, Johnson & Wales University, Rhode Island, USA. Honorary Doctor of Laws, NUI Galway, Ireland.

Pictured: Disney characters Mickey Mouse, Chip and Dale wear work outfits as they start construction for a Tokyo Disneyland hotel. REUTERS