Overview of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS)

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) is a natural economic area bound together by the Mekong River, covering 2.6 million square kilometers and  a combined population of around 326 million.

The GMS countries are Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China (PRC, specifically Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

In 1992, with assistance from ADB, the six countries entered into a program of subregional economic cooperation, designed to enhance economic relations among the countries.

With support from ADB and other donors, the GMS Program helps the implementation of high priority subregional projects in transport, energy, telecommunications, environment, human resource development, tourism, trade, private sector investment, and agriculture.

Substantial progress has been achieved in terms of implementing GMS projects since 1992. Priority infrastructure projects worth around $11 billion have either been completed or are being implemented. Among these are the upgrading of the Phnom Penh (Cambodia)-Ho Chi Minh City (Viet Nam) highway and the East-West Economic Corridor that will eventually extend from the Andaman Sea to Da Nang.

The subregion embraces flora and fauna that have expanded northward along the Malay Peninsula into Thailand, encroached upon the high mountains from the Himalayas, or advanced along the broad river valleys as dry deciduous forests similar to those of India. Ten million years of changing sea levels have left a rich legacy of unique life forms that have evolved in isolation on the Cardamom and Annamite mountains of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

These resources provide both income and sustenance to the great majority of people in the subregion who are leading subsistence or near subsistence agricultural lifestyles. The land yields timber, minerals, coal, and petroleum, while water from the many rivers supports agriculture and fisheries and provides energy in the form of hydropower. The coal reserves of the subregion are abundant, and the oil and gas reserves considerable. Most of these are in Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. These abundant energy resources are still relatively underused.

Increasingly, modernization and industrialization are emerging from a process of transition and transformation. The Mekong countries are gradually shifting from subsistence farming to more diversified economies, and to more open, market-based systems. In parallel with this are the growing commercial relations among the six Mekong countries, notably in terms of cross-border trade, investment, and labor mobility. Moreover, natural resources, particularly hydropower, are beginning to be developed and utilized on a subregional basis.

The rich human and natural resource endowments of the Mekong region have made it a new frontier of Asian economic growth. Indeed, the Mekong region has the potential to be one of the world’s fastest growing areas.


The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Tourism sector strategy is built on the principles of sustainable tourism development that is economically viable and contributes to sustainable development, gender equality, and poverty reduction in the GMS.

In 2011, the GMS Tourism Ministers endorsed a refocused strategy which consolidates the seven priority programs set out in the original strategy into three: (i) tourism-related human resource development, (ii) pro-poor sustainable tourism, and (iii) subregional marketing and product development.

The vision is to promote the GMS as a single destination, offering a diversity of good quality and high-yielding subregional products, add to tourism development efforts of each GMS country, and contribute to poverty reduction, gender equality and empowerment of women, and sustainable development, while minimizing any adverse impacts.

The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO), located in Bangkok, Thailand, in the offices of the Department of Tourism, Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Bangkok, and was set up with funding from the governments of the six Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) countries – Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam. The MTCO, which operates on annual financial contributions from each GMS country, has two primary functions: Tourism Development: MTCO coordinates sustainable pro-poor tourism development projects in the Mekong in line with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Marketing: MTCO promotes the Mekong region as a single travel and tourism destination.

MTCO is managed by an Executive Director and supported by an Operations Manager. MTCO staff is guided by the GMS Tourism Working Group, comprising senior officials of the six GMS countries’ National Tourism Organizations.

Primary Functions of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office
MTCO serves as the Secretariat of the GMS Tourism Working Group; coordinates subregional tourism development projects and subregional tourism knowledge management; and assists the GMS countries jointly promote the Mekong as a single tourism destination. MTCO receives support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
1) Development – To co-ordinate sustainable pro-poor tourism development projects in the Mekong in line with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, and
2) Marketing – To promote the Mekong region as a single travel and tourism destination.


GMS Tourism Sector Strategy 2006-2015

Inbound tourism in the GMS has been one of the fastest growing destinations in the world. Between 2004 and 2006, the number of tourist arrivals, based on thePATA studies, increased by 26%, with an impressive 61% growth for Cambodia and 55% for Yunnan and Guangxi together.

A common goal of both of public and private sectors in all countries is to create sustainable tourism profit. This is achieved optimally by increasing inbound tourism yield, by developing quality products that tourists are willing to buy, and inciting longer stays with enhanced motivation to revisit. Thus, GMS’s strategy is to “develop and promote the Mekong Region as a single destination, offering a diversity of good quality and high yielding sub regional products that helps to distribute the benefits of tourism more widely; add to the tourism development efforts of each country, by fostering a sustainable tourism development approach, by contributing to poverty reduction, gender equality and empowerment of women, while minimizing any adverse impacts.”

The strategy is comprised of 7 core programs: (1) marketing; (2) human resource development; (3) heritage conservation and mitigation of negative impacts; (4) pro-poor tourism; (5) private sector participation; (6) facilitation of travel, and (7) tourism development in priority zones. These core programs are divided into 29 projects including 16 thematic projects and 13 geographical projects.

To download the GMS Tourism Sector Strategy and Road Map 2016 – 2015, please visit GMS TSS 2006-2015.

To download the GMS Tourism Marketing Strategy 2015-2015, please click here.

1) Marketing the sub region as a single destination
To support multi country tourism in the GMS by stimulating demand from high yield markets through appropriate product development and joint promotional activities.

2) Human resource development with women’s empowerment
To upgrade the skills of tourism managers and tourism trainers to ensure that the strategy can be implemented and that the tourism institutions deliver quality training so that qualified staff is in place to face and manage tourism demand from high yield markets.

3) Heritage conservation and mitigation of negative socio-cultural impacts
To promote higher standards in the management of natural and cultural resources to maintain the value of what are the core tourism assets of the GMS; To strengthen socially responsible practices necessary to limit the negative impacts which uncontrolled tourism growth generates.

4) Pro-poor tourism and Equitable Distribution of Benefits
To promote patterns of tourism development that help reduce the incidence of poverty and increase economic opportunities and incomes for the poorest through their empowerment.

5) Private sector participation
To facilitate private sector participation and partnership in planning, investment and marketing.

6) Cross-border facilitation
To address impediments of travel to and within the GMS

7) Tourism-related infrastructure
To jointly plan and develop tourism infrastructure throughout the 13 identified GMS priority zones and to better spread the benefits of tourism. Key challenges over the next ten years will be to maintain sustainability and develop high yield quality tourism. This action endeavors to secure the first foundation of the GMS Tourism Sector that will allow the GMS countries to optimize the benefits from tourism for its human and economic development while preserving the cultural and natural assets, which are assets that are its main capital for the long term.


Visit Scribd to view GMS Conference proceedings here.



Executive Director
Jens Thraenhart

Jens Thraenhart was appointed by the tourism ministries of Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and China (Yunnan and Guangxi) to head the MTCO as its Executive Director. The MTCO is a collaborative effort between the six governments of the GMS countries to promote the Mekong region as a single tourism destination, and foster responsible tourism development in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Jens Thraenhart is founder & president of Digital Innovation Asia (DIA), an initiative endorsed by the UNWTO, ASEAN, and PATA, as well as NTOs in Asia, building digital capacity from social to mobile in the travel and tourism industry in Asia Pacific, including innovative initiatives such as E-Tourism Asia Boot-Camps and Awards, as well as Blogger Match-Up.

He also founded China Travel Trends, as well as award-winning China digital marketing firm Dragon Trail in 2009, and has led marketing and Internet strategy teams with the Canadian Tourism Commission and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, and has consulted for many global companies, most recently for Swire Hotels (Hong Kong, China), Dusit International (Bangkok, Thailand), and HMD Asia (Shinta Mani Hotel Siem Reap, Cambodia). While at the Canadian Tourism Commission, he founded the Canada-e-Connect Strategy Conference (2007), the Canadian e-Tourism Awards (2007), the Canadian e-Tourism Council (2006). Passionate about story-telling, he co-founded the Tips From The T-List book and blogging community (2007), and created Blogger Match-Up (2013), an innovative blogger outreach model to bring top digital self publishers and influential citizen journalists to Asia and match them up with travel and tourism organizations.

Educated at Cornell University with a Masters of Management in Hospitality, Mr. Thraenhart was recognized as one of the travel industry’s top 100 rising stars by Travel Agent Magazine in 2003, was listed as one of HSMAI’s 25 Most Extraordinary Sales and Marketing Minds in Hospitality and Travel in 2004 and 2005, and named as one of the Top 20 Extraordinary Minds in European Travel and Hospitality in 2014. A UNWTO Affiliate Member  (most recently part of the mission to DPRK), he has served on various boards, including HSMAI and IFITT, and is on the judging panel the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards. As Chair of PATA China, he founded the Annual China Responsible Tourism Forum & Awards in 2011. A dual citizen of Germany and Canada, Jens now lives in Bangkok/Thailand.

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