MTF 2015: Quality River Cruise Tourism for the Mighty Mekong

Proudly contributed by Luc Citrinot

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The recently hosted Mekong Tourism Forum organized a marketing workshop looking at issues and assets to develop Mekong River cruise tourism. The marketing workshop was conducted under the auspices of Eric Ricaurte, Lead consultant on Sustainable Cruise Development for the UNWTO, Harmony Lamm, Deputy Manager – UNWTO Regional Support Office for Asia and the Pacific and Le Tuan Anh, Deputy Director General of Marketing Department, Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT).

River cruise is already a well-know product for the Mekong region with boats and the segment is growing year after year, in trend with a worldwide development on river cruises. According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), specialty cruises -which includes sophisticated ships, luxury yachts, elegant ocean liners and the newest river cruises- is growing by over 20% a year.

Cruises in Asia Pacific continue to expand as CLIA reveals in its annual State of the Industry report. In 2015, 52 ships will provide 1,065 Asian cruises with capacity for 2.17 million passengers.

Back to the Greater Mekong Sub-region the use of the legendary River is an essential part of a tourism experience for travellers. “The Mekong is the essence of livelyhood for many and also a way of life. To cruise the Mekong is not only looking at magnificent landscapes but also discover the true essence of the region and how communities have prospered in the shadow of the river”, highlighted Eric Ricaurte from UNWTO.

The Mekong appears like a perfect test market for ASEAN-river cruise tourism. The fact that it goes through six countries provide a unique opportunity for the development of multi-country circuits and propose activities linked to the river itself. ‘Mekong cruise between HCM City and Siem Reap were nomintated among the five Best River Cruises for 2015 by the Daily Telegraph in the UK, emphasizing the worldwide recognition of the product”, said Le Tuan Anh.

While it will not be possible to sail all across the Mekong -due largely to natural obstacles- circuits can be developed between Thailand and Laos up to China as well as between Cambodia and Vietnam up to the border of Laos.

Home-stay along the river, community discovery, fishing, animal observation, agro-tourism as well as festivals and culture linked to the Mekong are some of the activities to be promoted while special attractions could be further developed “The Mekong is also a base to explore further inland areas located in the proximity of the river. However, they are issues over transport infrastructure which need to be resolve”, points out Eric Ricaurte.

Linking also river cruise tourism to ocean cruise tourism is a possibility to be explored. “They complement each other and allow the Mekong River to target a more international audience”, said Harmony Lamm.

IMG_3162All participants to the River Cruise Marketing workshop agreed over the need to provide a quality experience. In fact, one of the latest trends in Mekong cruise tourism is the development of luxury cruises. As an example, some 20 luxury cruise liners -offering comfort standards of a five-star boutique hotel- commute today between Cambodia and Vietnam. Packages for a seven-night cruise can be sold up to US$8,000. Similar luxury boats link also Thailand to Luang Prabang in Laos. Capacities per boot can go from 20 to over 100 passengers.

River cruise on the Mekong is certainly an ideal way to discover the fascinating world of the Greater Mekong Sub-region. Particularly as it mostly favours small size groups, generally interested to venture and discover the life of the communities based around the River. To insist on the quality aspect and the sustainability of river cruise tourism, both public and private partners will succeed with a unique product.

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