The Mekong Tourism Forum (MTF)
is the flagship annual gathering for
the six-nation Greater Mekong Subregion
(GMS), consisting of Cambodia,
China (specifically Yunnan and Guangxi),
Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Since 1996, the MTF has provided
a platform for stakeholders in the tourism
industry to discuss the development and
promotion of travel to, from and within the
GMS. The MTF is inclusive, interactive and
results-oriented, encouraging all participants
to work together to effectively market
the GMS as a single destination.
The 2012 edition of the Mekong Tourism
Forum took place at the Dusit Island
Resort in the historic city of Chiang Rai,
"the gateway to the Mekong", under the
theme, "20/20 Vision: Building on Two Decades
of GMS Cooperation."
Chiang Rai province was chosen as
the host city of the Mekong Tourism Forum
2012 due to its magnificent tourism resources,
services and infrastructure. It's also
a gateway to Myanmar and Laos and other
Mekong countries. This is also an important
year for Chiang Rai as it marks the 750th
anniversary of Chiang Rai City, so hosting
MTF 2012 was considered a great opportunity
for the city to celebrate this auspicious
event with friends from GMS countries and
other international partners.
"The Forum was the event of the year
for travel industry professional dedicated to
putting the GMS on the global travel map as
a single destination," said Mason Florence,
executive director of the Mekong Tourism
Coordinating Office in Bangkok. "Tourism
leaders from the public and private sectors
and regional development partners realize
that the Forum is the ideal place for travel
industry people who are serious about exploring
the region's cross-border potential."
As part of the Forum, the Thai Ministry
of Tourism & Sports organized the Mekong
Trading Post to introduce local arts and
crafts as well as local products to all MTF
participants and the general public. There
was also a workshop for tourist guides &
tour operators and a workshop on community-
based tourism, and four complementary
"The Mekong Tourism Forum provides
great inspiration to companies seeking to innovate
and grow across the Greater Mekong
Region," said Willem Niemeijer, CEO and
co-founder of Khiri Group. "The Forum
proved to be a great source of synergy between
grass roots operators, multi-national
hotel chains, destination management companies,
NGOs, government bodies and the
Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA)
organized the first Mekong Tourism Forum
in 1996 and led it for 10 consecutive years.
The hosting of this influential annual event
rotated among destinations within the GMS
until 2005. In subsequent years private sector
initiated events around the region continued
to work towards the forum's goals.
The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office
(MTCO) revived the forum in 2010 staging
it in Siem Reap, Cambodia with the theme
of "New Roads, New Opportunities". This
was followed by MTF2011, held in Pakse,
Laos, with the theme "Destination Mekong:
The Making of a Star".
After 20 years of cooperation, the GMS
now attracts over 30 million international
visitor arrivals each year, which generate
significant economic and social benefits.
The tourism sector contributes over US$30
billion in annual receipts to the GMS' GDP
annually and is directly involved in the reduction
of poverty through the creation of
employment, including the creation of six
million jobs, many of which are taken by
women, youth and ethnic minorities.
The forum focus was on the development
of human resources, sustainable tourism,
sub-regional product development and marketing for the next 20 years, in the context
of achievements from the past 20 years.
Speakers delivered a candid assessment of
what progress has, and has not, been accomplished
in the GMS countries and by
donors like the Asian Development Bank.
The GMS countries are collectively targeting
52 million international tourist arrivals
with US$53 billion in sub-regional tourism
by 2015. There were 10 million arrivals
in 1995, rising to 35 million in 2011.
"A great deal has been achieved," said
Mason Florence. "Multi-country holidays
are now common in the GMS, but we still
need to reduce red tape, increase cross-border
flows, and boost sustainable tourism in
rural areas where incomes are still too low."
Tourists surveyed in the six countries
say that friendly people are one of the area's
most important assets. The forum assessed
how the attraction, retention, training and
development of the Mekong workforce has
progressed as well as what still needs to be
Participants addressed the recent
changes in Myanmar and the impact of
the ASEAN Economic Cooperation, due in
2015. There was a session on how private
and public sector tourism operators can better
leverage the shift to electronic distribution
and social media.
Google & TAT Team Up for
Chiang Rai played host to eTourism
Day, a technology showcase joint initiative
by the Mekong Tourism
the Tourism Authority
of Thailand (TAT) and
Google to help local
leverage technology to
build their businesses, and the "Chiang Rai:
Gateway to the Mekong" brand.
Sitting at the crossroads of the Greater
Mekong Sub-region (GMS), Chiang Rai is
uniquely positioned to benefit from growing
economic opportunities through increased
tourism and the launch of the ASEAN Economic
Community in 2015.
eTourism Day sessions were held in
both Thai and English, and lead by experts
from TAT and Google Thailand, along with
Dragon Trail, which has previously run
GMS social media "boot camps" in Cambodia,
Laos and Myanmar.
Thapanee Kiatphaibool, Director,
Marketing Information Technology Group,
Tourism Authority of Thailand, led a session
on 'Building the Chiang Rai brand via
Social Media and Digital Marketing'. "We
are very keen to support this initiative," said
Ms. Kiatphaibool, "and to help enable local
travel and tourism professionals make use of
emerging technologies to bolster their businesses."
Ariya Banomyong, Country Head of
Google Thailand, lead a session on Google
solutions for businesses. According to Mr
Banomyong, "Globally, 6 out of 10 travelers
use search engines as their number one
source for travel information so helping businesses
in Chiang Rai go online and connect
with potential customers is only a click away.
We're delighted to continue our partnership
with the Tourism Authority of Thailand and through eTourism Day provide practical
tools that can contribute to the economic
growth of the tourism industry and local
Thai businesses in this community who will
benefit directly from increased visitors and
eTourism Day took place at the Le Meridien
Resort Chiang Rai, one day prior to
the Mekong Tourism Forum 2012, which
brought together leaders from across the
GMS to assess the challenges and opportunities
for this vibrant sub-region to continue
to move forward and realize its potential.
Cross-border travel key to
Chiang Rai's tourism future
By Willem Niemeijer, CEO, Khiri Travel
Chiang Rai, the northernmost province
of Thailand, has issues.
It is at the geographic centre of the
Greater Mekong region. But despite its
physical beauty and advantageous location
adjacent to Myanmar, Laos and the Mekong
River, Chiang Rai's tourism sector has long