The gleaming Asian airport teaching West a lesson

A worker leaves the new terminal two wing at Noi Bai international airport in Hanoi 20 December 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption It's not Washington - it's Hanoi

It has become a truism that this is going to be an Asian century not an American one - but there's nothing like seeing the two continents first-hand to really understand why.

The speed of change, development and growth in Asia is staggering, particularly when you compare it to the inability of Washington DC to get anything done at all.

I had the privilege of being one of the first people to fly out of Hanoi's gleaming new international airport terminal on Monday. The building opened with great Vietnamese fanfare on Christmas Day. But here's what's really impressive - the project was only started in 2009.

That is five short years in which to build not only a large new airport terminal but also a six-lane motorway and an impressively high-tech bridge to connect the facility to the centre of the city.

Imagine America, or Europe for that matter, being able to accomplish anything that big in that short a time frame. Political divisions in the US Congress mean America can't agree on any new infrastructure projects, let alone something on that scale.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The new bridge to the Noi Bai airport in Hanoi

And I can tell you, when you fly from the capital of Vietnam to the capital of the world's superpower, you realise it's Washington's airport that desperately needs the upgrade.

By comparison with all five of the clean, modern Asian airports I visited during my trip - in Cambodia, Vietnam and South Korea - it was Dulles that felt like it was in the developing world.

With so much construction going on in South-East Asia, you would think Western firms would be rushing to invest. But Hanoi's new airport - like Ho Chi Minh City's new subway system - has been built with Japanese money. From what I could see, the Asian boom is being financed with Asian cash.

If I owned a construction company, or a hotel chain, or an airline, or pretty much anything related to travel or tourism, I'd park myself firmly in the East.

Take a tour of the Angkor Wat in Cambodia after 9:00am and the crowds of Chinese tourists are almost impressive as the ancient Khmer ruins themselves.

Where only 10 years ago there would have been just a handful of intrepid Chinese visitors, outnumbered by Westerners, today there are millions of them.

And of course, their numbers will only grow.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tourists at Angkor Wat

The new face of global tourism is Asian and any hospitality firm not catering to Asian tourists is missing a profitable trick.

I loved my two weeks in Asia. It was the first time I had been back in too long. Despite being dragged round endless sights at the crack of dawn, my kids loved it too, the welcome for them was just as warm as I remembered it when I used to live in Japan.

I was there for holiday not work, so my impressions are just that, impressionistic, but I came away with two clear observations - a sense of how fast things are moving there compared to here and of how little the West seems to feature in that boom.

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