Openness and Authenticity drive tourism in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region

Further development of tourism in the Greater Mekong Sub-region linked to increased sustainability and a search for authenticity will determine GMS Tourism Sector Strategy Plan over the next ten years. Easing travel conditions in the region have changed and will continue to change the way to travel in the Mekong area.

It was an excellent idea to have the Mekong Tourism Forum 2016 hosted in Sihanoukville, Southern Cambodia. First because it has been a way to promote an increasingly important destination along the Southern Tourism Corridor, a project supported by the Asia Development Bank (ADB) which encompasses Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam along the Gulf of Siam. But also Sihanoukville shows the challenge to offer an « authentic » experience for travellers. « There is a need to redefine Sihanoukville and expose it to travellers for something else than just a beach/party destination. We have to think out of the box », recognizes young hotelier Jason Yamanaka , who runs the Reef Resort in Sihanoukville.

Timing was ideal for GMS countries to launch the 10-year GMS Tourism Sector Strategy plan, which will define the evolution of the Greater Mekong Subregion tourism industry over the period 2016-2026.

A lot has indeed changed since the implementation of the first 10-year plan(2005-2015). Myanmar political isolation came to an end, turning the country into one of the fastest rising destinations in the world ; visa requirements have been partially lifted or at least simplified for countries such as Myanmar or Vietnam ; new land and sea connections were set up as more border check points opened while new routes were launched, especially driven by the emergence of low cost carriers.

International tourist arrivals has grown consequently from 20 million in 2005 to 58 million in 2015, a figure up by 190% in just one decade time.

Determinant to the rapid growth of tourism in the Mekong area was also « Openness ».

«Promoting openness in the GMS drove tourism growth in the last decade: open borders, open skies, open roads, open cruises but also open hearts and open thinking about the future », stated Steven Schipani, Senior Sector Specialist ADB Lao Resident Mission during the Forum.

The GMS Tourism Sector Strategy for the years 2016-2026 will evaluate :

  • Tourism Product/Experience Development
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Tourist Facilities and Infrastructure
  • Human Resource Development
  • Service Quality Improvement
  • Regional/Sub-regional Tourism Cooperation
  • Strengthening Stakeholder Collaboration

Travellers’ expectations are now changing dramatically due to the development of social  media. « We are now talking about authentic engaging experiences. With a major question : do we tell the right story to travellers today ? », questioned during a presentation Walter Jamison, Professor, Service Innovation Program at Thamassat University in Bangkok.

The idea of mastering the travel chain from A to Z has also been exacerbated by the ability for consumers to choose their own flights and accommodation or using the new Tools of the sharing economy.

The challenge in the future for the GMS will be to match development with authenticity and keeping the connection between travellers and locals. « The desire of today’s travellers of having an authentic, cultural experience is what is driving much of tourism  growth. These days, tourists are seeking meaningful experiences that connect them with local cultures and places. Authentic and genuine experiences will make GMS tourism successful, » declared Cambodia Minister of Tourism, H.E. Thong Khon during his official opening speech. Sensitive tourism policies will be the key to further success…