The recent hosting of the Mekong Tourism Forum in LNearly 400 travel and tourism industry professionals exchanged lessons and experiences to promote competitive, inclusive, and sustainable tourism at the 2017 MTF , held on 5–9 June in Luang Prabang, Laos. Hosted by the Luang Prabang Provincial Government and the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism in collaboration with the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, the theme ‘Prosper with Purpose’ reflected the event’s strong focus on sustainability and engagement.
Prosper with Purpose is increasingly defining the way tourism should be conduct, especially in the Mekong region where tourism activities can easily imperil local ways of life and weaken the delicate balance between humans and nature. The Mekong region has embraced tourism as a way to alleviate poverty. The six member countries have been very successful to grow the total number of travellers in the last decade from less than 30 million travellers to 60 million last year.
Now, the Greater Mekong Sub-region is in need to look at all the issues linked to a rapid development of its tourism. Sustainable growth, protecting and educating population, creating not only valuable jobs but also providing perspectives for social progression, protecting landscapes but also urban and rural heritage, fostering organic agriculture, preserving handicraft, eradicating woes often linked by weak control of tourism activities -such as prostitution or child work-, providing useful infrastructure to link better the various regions of the GMS, these are all the tasks that tourism stakeholders in the region face.
The MTF is from that stand point an excellent venue to show that many people are getting involved into a balanced development. Not only officials such as the NTOs and the Asia Development Bank but also NGOs, local communities, hoteliers and tour operators. The multitude of companies helping to let tourism prosper in the GMS, found with the MTF the right platform to discuss and exchange ideas and views.
But now, this is also the format of the MTF which is changing. By hosting the event in Luang Prabang, the MTF helped to demonstrate that a world-class event could be successfully hosted in a smaller town without large conference halls.
Luang Prabang’s historic district became THE venue during the MTF , where delegates joined highly relevant thematic sessions moderated by subject matter experts, aligned to the United Nations International Year of Sustainability Tourism for Development.
Topics included child protection, heritage preservation, green urban development, women’s empowerment, human resource development, wildlife protection, community based tourism, youth tourism, sustainable investment, and emerging markets. They were hosted in various places all across the town, from a botanical garden to cruise boats on the Mekong River, from hotels to museums, from craft centres to restaurants.
“This event was truly designed by the industry for the industry,’ said Jens Thraenhart, Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, one of the key event organizers.
Keynote speaker Ms. Anna Pollock, UK-based founder of Conscious.travel said ‘It was both an honor and delight to participate in the 2017 Mekong Tourism Forum, one of the best tourism conferences I have ever attended, setting a new standard in conference delivery. The ‘distributed, inclusive’ model maximized exposure to the talent in both the host and delegate communities, and was a brave, novel and constructive initiative, of benefit to many. Combined with the online platform developed for Mekong Tourism, the forum has set a new standard for destination management organizations to follow!’
Reactions were indeed unanimous. Ms. Duanratchada Chimphalee, Director of Sales & Marketing at Mekong Cruises said: “Being able to discuss the issues of river-based tourism right on a river cruise boat on the Mekong River, made the debate not only so much more relevant and engaging, but also offered delegates to experience tourism products away from the traditional meeting room. We were very pleased to be part of the MTF 2017 hosting community. This new and innovative approach may open up future opportunities for collaboration among the travel industry in Luang Prabang.“
Mr. Peter Richards, session facilitator and International Trade Centre responsible tourism specialist remarked ‘While complex from a logistics standpoint, the organizer’s efforts paid off to create one of the most inclusive and experiential tourism conferences yet by making the destination the venue. This is a new benchmark for inclusive conferences. It was marvelous.’
With the new format, MTF clearly demonstrated that creativity is the future of the Mekong Region, including for the promotion of secondary destinations. Luang Prabang proved it. And it is to expect that other destinations across the region will follow the path set by MTF 2017.