Industry Update
Opinion Article31 May 2011

Travel Leaders at Mekong Tourism Forum urge to manage tourism growth into the region

By Jens Thraenhart, Executive Director CEO of the Mekong Tourism Coordination Office (MTCO)

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The region around the Mekong River in Southeast Asia, connecting the six countries Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, China (Yunnan), Thailand, and Myanmar, is in many parts yet to be developed for tourism, which makes it unique and exotic for many travelers that want to experience the real Asia. The Mekong Tourism Forum was held in Pakse in Southern Laos from May 26-28, with the theme “Destination Mekong: The Making of a Star”.

Travel and tourism experts from around the region and abroad discussed what needs to be done to establish the Mekong region as a well-known tourism destination around the world by focusing on areas such as investment, infrastructure, product, service, and marketing.

Development organizations from ADB (Asian Development Bank), SNV (Netherlands), and GTZ (Germany) have been active in the region to develop infrastructure, to drive tourism projects. SNV, together with UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) supported the Mekong Discovery Trail from Kratie to Stung Treng in Northeastern Cambodia as an example. Mason Florence, Executive Director of Mekong Tourism (MTCO) urged that tourism growth in the region has to be managed to preserve the culture. Mass tourism into some parts of region with brittle infrastructure could destroy some of the heritage. Bill Calderwood agreed, and reminded attendees that while the US does not have the most visitors into the region, it represents the highest aggregated spend. Finding the right tourists instead of finding the most tourists should be the goal. Lutzi Matzig, CEO of Asian Trails pointed to the growing number of Chinese tourists that are already coming, and will increasingly come into the region. While Chinese tourists represent a great opportunity to the region, developing the right products and services for this market is critical. Jens Thraenhart, who facilitated the Mekong Tourism New Media Boot Camp prior to the Mekong Tourism Forum, mentioned that social media is a powerful channel to market to Chinese consumers, and can also be used to increase awareness for responsible tourism. His China-based company. That he co-founded is working on a powerful social media campaign to achieve exactly that.

The successful Mekong Tourism Forum brought together over 250 attendees, and featured a trade fair, with booth made out of sustainable material such as bamboo, to be reused in the communities after the conference. This signifies the importance and focus of responsible tourism for the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, which one one hand is working to increase awareness of the Mekong region with tools such as , and on the other hand promote responsible travel by showcasing tourism suppliers that drive responsible practices. Following up on its award-winning responsible tourism guide book, the MTCO is developing an updated, supported by a soon to be launched website, , linked to the main trade site .

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