Tourism industry stakeholders should develop and protect authentic travel experiences to ensure that the Mekong region does not become a victim of its own success.
The Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS or “Mekong”) is well positioned for tourism growth due to its proximity to large and growing outbound markets, such as China and India, and the fact that nearly half of all international arrivals globally are to emerging destinations.
Indeed the GMS is the fastest-growing sub-region in Asia said Minister of Tourism, Cambodia HE Dr Thong Khon during the opening session of the Mekong Tourism Forum 2016, July 6, in which he welcomed more than 200 delegates to Sihanoukville.
The theme of the Forum was “Developing Authentic Experiences along the Mekong River”.
Growth Comes With Responsibility
“UNWTO expects emerging economies to grow at double the pace of advanced ones over the coming 20 years,” Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) Executive Director Jens Thraenhart said in his introductory remarks.
“At this rate, emerging economies will be receiving over one billion arrivals by 2030.
“But with this growth also comes responsibility to ensure that it is inclusive and sustainable.”
Mr Thraenhart urged the GMS tourism sector to take notice of clear emerging trends, such as travellers’ desire for “experiential”, “immersive”, and “local” travel.
“Authenticity is critical to sustaining Mekong tourism well into the future,” he said.
“When travellers engage with locals, not only does it maximize local economic benefits, travellers are also creating their own personal experience, leading to new discoveries.
“Our most cherished travel memories often revolve around the people we meet and unexpected encounters.”
Authentic Travel Reflected in Social Media
In a call back to the previous day’s well-attended 2016 Mekong Tourism Digital Boot Camp, Mr Thraenhart said social media should not be cynically thought of as a marketing tool to sell product.
Social media was now a “wholly integrated part of a traveller’s experience”; before, during and after travel.
The authenticity or uniqueness of a traveller’s experience will be reflected in their social media engagement, he said.
UNWTO Commends GMS, MTCO
In a video message to delegates, United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Secretary General Taleb Rifai commended the GMS Tourism Working Group and the MTCO for picking the theme of authenticity for the Forum. He also applauded the participation of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
“The declaration by the UN of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development is a unique opportunity to advance the contribution of the tourism sector to the three pillars of sustainability—economic, social and environmental—while raising awareness of the true dimensions of a sector that is often undervalued,” Mr Rifai said.
The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) welcomes contributions from experts and writers on the subjects of sustainable development and authentic travel experiences. Click here to discover more about our contributor program.
Presentations from Mekong Tourism Forum 2016 are available for download here.