Deciphering the Development of Smart and Sustainable Tourism Cities in Southeast Asia

A Call for Research


  • Marcus L. Stephenson Sunway University, Malaysia
  • Graeme Dobson University of Birmingham, UK



ASEAN, Case Studies, Smart Cities, Smart Tourism, Sustainable Development Goals


A recognized desire is noticeable within ASEAN nations to develop more sustainable approaches to urban development and tourism.  One  solution  has  been  to  promote the expansion of both smart cities and smart tourism practices. Recently, these smart approaches have been implemented across a variety of different cities and locales. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the potential for further research in developing relation- ships between ‘smart cities’ and ‘smart tourism’ practices in Southeast Asia. Rather than present a review of the entire region, three potential case studies located in Myanmar, Lao PDR, and Thailand are discussed. These include Yangon as a case of smart approaches in a primary city, Vientiane as a case of smart approaches in a smaller city, and Phuket as a case of smart approaches in an area which suffers from overtourism. The authors maintain that this type of case study research within ASEAN states can provide critical insights and local solutions to the advancement of smart and sustainable tourism destinations.

Author Biographies

Marcus L. Stephenson, Sunway University, Malaysia

Marcus L. Stephenson is Professor of  Tourism  and  Hospitality  Management  and  Dean  of  the School of Hospitality at Sunway University (Malaysia). Professor Stephenson is the co- author of Tourism and Citizenship: Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities in the Global Order (2014, Routledge) and co-editor of International Tourism Development and the Gulf Cooperation Council States: Challenges and Opportunities (2017, Routledge). He has been involved in research projects in the Caribbean, UK, Tanzania, Middle East, and the Pacific. He has published extensively on the sociology of tourism, especially on issues concerning nationality, race, ethnicity, culture, and religion.

Graeme Dobson, University of Birmingham, UK

Graeme Dobson is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Birmingham. He has had a varied career in education working predominately in schools and local au- thorities within urban areas within the UK. Graeme’s research interests include career interest, decision making, migration and mobility, and educational resource issues.


Albino, V., Berardi, U., & Dangelico, R. M., (2015). Smart cities: Definitions, dimensions, performance, and initiatives. Journal of Urban Technology, 22(1), 3-21.

Allam, Z., & Jones, D.S. (2020). On the coronavirus (covid-19) outbreak and the smart cities network: Uni- versal data sharing standards coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) to benefit urban health monito- ring and management. Healthcare, 8(46), 1-9.

Anttiroiko, A. V., Valkama, P., & Baily, S. J., (2014). Smart cities in the new service economy: Building plat- forms for smart services. AI & Society, 29(3), 323-334.

ASEAN. (2015). ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan 2016-2018, Jakarta, Indonesia: Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Retrieved from ATSP-2016-2025.pdf

ASEAN. (2020, January 15). The 23rd Meeting of ASEAN tourism ministers. Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam Joint Media Statement. Retrieved from storage/2020/01/JMS-23rd-M- ATM-Final.pdf

ASEAN Secretariat. (2018, October). ASEAN Sustainable urbanisation strategy. Jakarta, Indonesia: Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Retrieved from Sustainable-Urbanisation-Strategy-ASUS.pdf

Bhattacharya, A., (2018, June 7). Exclusive interview: How the capital of Laos is cleaning up, Gov Insider. Retrieved from

Bibri, S. E., & Krogstie, J. (2019). Generating a vision for smart sustainable cities of the future: a scholarly backcasting approach. European Journal of Futures Research, 7(5), 1-20.

Bibri, S. E., & Krogstie, J. (2017). On the social shaping dimensions of smart sustainable cities: A study in science, technology and society. Sustainable Cities and Society, 29, 219–246.

Board, J. (2019, November 23). Speculative Yangon city mega-project draws ‘white elephant’ concerns for Myanmar, Channel News Asia. Retrieved from city-mega-project-myanmar-china-state-investment-12051770

Buhalis, D., & Amaranggana, A. (2014). Smart tourism destinations. In Z. Xiang, & I. Tussyadiah (Eds.), Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism (pp. 553-564). Vienna, Austria: Springer.

Centre for Liveable Cities. (2018). ASEAN smart cities networks, Singapore: CLC Publications.

Coca-Stefaniak, J. A. (2019). Marketing smart tourism cities – a strategic dilemma. International Journal of Tourism Cities, 5(4), 513-518.

Femenia-Serra, F., & Neuhofer, B. (2018). "Smart tourism experiences": conceptualización, aspectos clave y agenda de investigación. Investigaciones regionales: Journal of Regional Research, 42, 129-150.

García-Hernández, M., Ivars-Baidal, J., & Mendoza de Miguel, S. (2019). Overtourism in urban destinations: The myth of smart solutions. Boletín de la Asociación de Geógrafos Españoles, 83(2830), 1-38.

González-Reverté, F. (2019). Building sustainable smart destinations: an approach based on the development of Spanish smart tourism plans. Sustainability, 11(23), 1-24.

Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. (2018, July). Voluntary National Review on the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Retrieved from https:// 19385 Lao _Final_VNR_19_June_2018_web.pdf

Haarstad, H. (2016). Constructing the sustainable city: Examining the role of sustainability in the ‘smart city’ discourse. Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, 19(4), 423-437.

Helmy, Y. (2019, October, 31). The case for inconspicuous sustainability practices: insights from the smartest city in the world, Eco-Business. Retrieved from case-for-inconspicuous-sustainability-practices-insights-from-the-smartest-city-in-the-world/

Harrison, C., Eckman, B., Hamilton, R., Hartswick, P., Kalagnanam, J., Paraszczak, J., & Williams, P. (2010). Foundations for smarter cities. IBM Journal of Research and Development, 54(4), 1-16.

Harvey, D. (2020). Anti-capitalist politics in the time of COVID-19. Jacobin Magazine. Retrieved from

Hollands, R. G. (2008). Will the real smart city please stand up? Intelligent, progressive or entrepreneurial? City, 12(3), 303-320.

Ivars-Baidal, J. A., García Hernández, M., & Mendoza de Miguel, S. (2019). Integrating overtourism in the Smart Tourism Cities Agenda. e-Review of Tourism Research, 17(2), 122-139.

Khan, M., Woo, M., Nam, K., & Chathoth, P. (2017). Smart city and smart tourism: A case of Dubai. Sustainability, 9(12), 1-24.

Knupfer, S. M., Pokotilo, V., & Woetzel, J. (2018). Elements of success: Urban transportation systems of 24 global cities, McKinsey Center for Future Mobility, McKinsey & Company. Retrieved from https:// Elements%20of%20success%20Urban%20transportation%20systems%20of%2024%20global%20 cities/Urban-transportation-systems_e-versions.ashx

Lacinák, M., & Ristvej, J. (2017). Smart city, safety and security. Procedia Engineering, 192, 522–527.

McKinsey Global Institute. (2018). Smart cities in Southeast Asia. Produced for World Cities Summit 2018 in collaboration with the Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore.

Roberts, J. L. (2017). Heritage-making and post-coloniality in Yangon, Myanmar. In H. Hsiao, Y. Hui, & P. Peycam (Eds.). Citizens, civil society and heritage-making in Asia (pp. 40-60). Singapore: ISEAS Publishing.

Shen, S., Sotiriadis, M., & Zhou, Q. (2020). Could smart tourists be sustainable and responsible as well? The contribution of social networking sites to improving their sustainable and responsible behaviour. Sustainability, 12(4), 1470, 1-21.

Smart Cities World. (2019, March 22). South-east Asia’s vision for smarter cities. Retrieved from https://

The ASEAN Post. (2018, June 26). Smart city spotlight. Retrieved from smart-city-spotlight-phuket

Thomas, J. (2019, August 2). Cambodia needs a smart plan. The ASEAN Post. Retrieved from https://

Tortermvasana, K. (2016, January 23). Phuket set to be Thailand’s first smart city. Bangkok Post. Retrieved from

Tortermvasana, K. (2018, June 8). Depa to entice non-Asean partners, Bangkok Post. Retrieved from https://

United Nations. (2015). Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Retrieved from Sustainable%20Development%20web.pdf

Utomo, A.B. (2019, November 27). ASEAN Smart city network: thinking beyond ceremonial paradiplomacy. The Diplomat. Retrieved from /11/asean-smart-city-network-thinking- beyond-ceremonial-paradiplomacy/ (2019, November 25). Lao capital Vientiane on track to reach targeted number of tourists for 2019. Retrieved from

Yifan, J. (2019, November 29). New Yangon City: A controversial blueprint, China Dialogue. Retrieved from blueprint