A very good morning to all of you, and welcome to Sihanoukville Province, Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonders!
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to Sihanoukville Province for the Mekong Tourism Forum 2016. On behalf of the Ministry of Tourism of the Kingdom of Cambodia, I would like to extend our warmest welcome to Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues from the GMS countries, other countries and MTCO for the valuable support and cooperation.
Your participation today reflects further our solidarity, friendship and cooperation as well as follows our spirit of cooperation. In 2011 Cambodia already had the honour to host the Mekong Tourism Forum in Siem Reap, a destination rated by Trip Advisor in 2015 as number one in Asia, and number two in the world.
Again, we are proud to host the Mekong Tourism Forum, this time in the heart of Cambodia’s great destination, the Southern Coast, which is part of the world’s most beautiful beaches connecting Thailand and Viet Nam. Cambodia coast has been awarded as the world’s « Most Beautiful Beach » in 2011. Please spend your time to enjoy our beautified beach!
Tourism is a strong driving force for socioeconomic development in the region that has benefited all of our countries. Indeed, while Southeast Asia is the fastest growing tourism region in the world (+6%), the Greater Mekong Sub-region is the fastest growing sub-region in Asia in 2015 and expect to continue its growth. For Cambodia, in 2015 we welcomed 4.77 million international tourists, an increase of 6.1%, while the coastal zone welcomed 0.6 million international visitors and 9.7 million domestic tourists.
Tourism generates around US$3.1 billion accounting for 10.5% of Cambodia GDP and providing more than 80,000 direct jobs and other hundreds of thousand of indirect jobs. We expect that by 2020 Cambodia will welcome 7.5 million international visitors, generating US$5 billion. This fact presents terrific opportunities for our countries, as well as international investors, to derive the maximum benefits from this important sector.
The desire of today’s travellers of having an authentic, cultural experience is what is driving much of this growth, and it is the richness of our collective cultures that will be the foundation of our tourism sector in the future.
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, and genuine to be successful.
While growth in tourism arrivals, trips and revenues are all desirable goals, we must ensure that this development is sustainable, and brings out the very best that our region has to offer in terms of our heritage, culture, and people.
Bringing tourism experiences closer to local cultures also presents tremendous opportunities for generating local income and conserving local customs and lifestyles. Indeed, by focussing on developing authentic tourism products and experiences we are addressing the demands of the modern current travel market while providing socio-economic development opportunities for local people as well as preserving and enriching local customs and cultures.
To capitalize on this important opportunity, the theme of this year’s Mekong Tourism Forum is “Authentic Experiences Along the Mekong River”. With this year’s Forum’s excellent agenda and your active participation, I am sure that we will together progress on developing and promoting authentic tourism experiences that connect our visitors with the genuine, authentic cultures and lifestyles of the local people. We will ensure that these tourist experiences also support local development while conserving the cultural wealth that defines what is special about our region.
I would also like to recognize the 10th year of support from the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office for their tireless efforts to develop and promote the Greater Mekong Region as a unified and thriving tourism destination, including the Mekong Tourism Forum that we are hosting today. Please join me to give a Happy 10th year anniversary to MTCO!
The Ministry of Tourism, Kingdom of Cambodia is proud to host this important event and I would like to wish all of you great success as we work together to strengthen and improve the tourism sector of the Greater Mekong Sub-region. This is our collective responsibility and purpose. Have a pleasant and enjoyable stay in Sihanoukville Province.
May I now declare open the Mekong Tourism Forum 2016!