National Geographic to argue for the power of Authentic Experiences

Company contributor Mekong Tourism Office

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This year’s Mekong Tourism Forum on July 5-7 in Sihaoukville, Cambodia will focus on the theme “Authentic Experiences along the Mekong River” is relevant and aligned to changing consumer trends. As identified in consumer trends reports, including the 2015-2020 Experience Mekong Tourism Marketing Strategy & Action Plan, travelers today want to connect with local communities, go off the beaten path, experience the culture from food to heritage. Today’s travelers also want to be conscious by protecting the environment, and responsible in the way they travel. According to a recent Expedia survey, 76% of baby boomers rate experiencing authentic local culture as “the most important” aspect of their decision making, while 62% of Generation X consumers rate local culture most important.


Jens Thraenhart, Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) said: “Travellers want to be able to truly experience the country that they are visiting, and come away with a true appreciation of the local experience. In short, the average tourist no longer wants to feel like a tourist. It’s about participatory travel in a local culture and much more than just seeing the expected sights. Like they’ll fly to Hanoi to try Vietnamese street-food. Or they’re going to Bangkok, and it’s not about seeing the Grand Palace. It’s about learning how to make homemade Som Tum, Mussaman Curry, and Pad Thai.”


James Dion, Sustainable Tourism Program Manager at National Geographic – Maps Division will use case studies from destinations from all over the world where communities have enabled travelers to experience local culture by being responsible at the same time.


Mr. Dion is excited about the Greater Mekong Region embracing the theme of ‘authentic experiences’, and said: “Today when tourists visit a destination they are no longer just seeking relaxation on a beach. Today’s tourists are seeking meaningful experiences that connect them with local cultures and places. But these experiences must be authentic, genuine to be successful, and showcased online to tell the stories of the destination. This fragmented mosaic of experiences in itself creates the real brand perception of the destination. ”


Later in the afternoon, Sarah Schwepcke from German Development Organization GIZ will introduce the Destination Mutual Benefit Program, which puts these ideas into action and presenting Lessons Learned from tourism companies that have made their business more experiential yet more inclusive and sustainable.


A regional expert panel will explore and debate the case of authentic experiences in the GMS, from product development challenges and opportunities to consumer trends and storytelling.  Willem Niemeijer of Yaana Ventures and Khiri Travel will facilitate the discussions with Inthy Deuansavan of Green Discovery Laos, Michael Zhou of Dynasty Travel China, Phyoe Wai Yar Zar of All Inclusive Asia Myanmar, Rory Hunter of Song Saa on Koh Rong Island, and Sokun Chanpreda of Shinta Mani Siem Reap.


The day will end by a thought-provoking conclusion on authentic experiences by Professor Walter Jamieson of Bangkok-based Thammasat University, who will also introduce the new Experience Mekong Showcase Project, which is currently being developed in partnership with the travel industry to position the region as a responsible yet experiential tourism destination.



The 2016 Mekong Tourism Forum will be hosted by the Cambodia Ministry of Tourism (MoT) at the Sokha Beach Resort Sihanoukville on the beautiful Southern Coast of Cambodia from July 5 to July 7. More information, and the most updated agenda, is accessible at As always, MTF strives to be as sustainable an event as possible, and is looking to move from printed brochures to a mobile app; please follow the app download link from the website.


In order to make it easy for even small- and medium-sized businesses to stay engaged, for the third time in a row, the 2016 Mekong Tourism Forum is free to attend for the first 150 qualified industry professionals, sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia.


Please be sure to register online at to secure one of the 150 free seats.





About Mekong Tourism:
Established in early 2006, the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) is a collaborative effort between the six countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS): Cambodia, The People’s Republic of China (PRC) (Yunnan and Guangxi Provinces), The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The mission of the MTCO is to help GMS National Tourism Organizations develop and promote the Mekong as a single travel destination, offering a diversity of good quality and high-yielding sub-regional products that help to distribute the benefits of tourism more widely; add to the tourism development efforts of each GMS destination; contribute to poverty reduction, gender equality and empowerment of women; and minimize any adverse impacts of tourism through the development of a sustainable industry. For more information, please visit, and follow us on social media @TourismMekong.


Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO)
Mr. Jens Thraenhart
MTCO Executive Director
Bangkok, Thailand


Photo Credit: Jens Thraenhart

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