SPECIAL MTF 2018: Transforming Travel and Life in the Greater Mekong Sub-region

Mekong, MTCO, MTF, Thailand,

Launching of MTF 2018 in Nakhon Phanom

New attendance record turned the 21st edition of the Mekong Tourism Forum in Nakhon Phanom into a success. Over 450 tourism stake holders met in the little Thai provincial city located along the Mekong river and talked about how travelling can transform people life, both tourists and locals. A transformation which can be for the best or the worst, an issue that the MTF is always raising…

It has been now an much expected appointment for all the professionals in tourism but also NGOs involved into social transformations of the Mekong region. The Mekong Tourism Forum was held from June 26 to June 29 in Nakhon Phanom, a quaint, charming small town located along the Mekong River in Northeast Thailand. Such an event, which welcomed over 450 people, was a good opportunity to highlight the destination. ” We are proud to bring MTF to Nakhon Phanom as it gives us an opportunity to expose a city which is to my opinion a perfect place for tourists as it brings together experiences of a multi-cultural population, history, religion, gastronomy and also the discovery of spectacular landscapes. Nakhon Phanom is a natural gateway to the region,” said Thailand Deputy Minister of Tourism and Sports, Itthipol Kunplome.

MTCO Executive Director Jens Thraenhart and Thailand Vice Minister of Tourism and Sports Itthiphol Kunplome during the Press Conference

An all-inclusive event

The success of the MTF hangs also to its transformation into an inclusive event over the years. “We have been working hard to create a platform to exchange experiences and views not only between specialists of the travel industry but also locals. Last year MTF in Luang Prabang inaugurated a new “inclusive” format. Theme discussions in various venues which were not designated for meetings; and this year, we experienced another first by bringing workshops to local villages enabling delegates to also experience, learn and exchange with villagers,” added Jens Thraenhart, Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO).

Registration data showed that government officials represented 26.5% of all delegates followed by media and bloggers at 18%, academics and consultants with 14%, and start-up founders and entrepreneurs at 12.5%. Over 20% of the participants came from the tourism private sector (hotels, tour operators, travel agencies, transportation and attractions).

“We want to make MTF a lively platform of exchange and this is reflected into MTF 2018 theme ‘Transforming Travel- Transforming Lives’. Under that theme, we also aim to redefine the way tourism should grow in the Greater Mekong Sub-region,” told Thraenhart.

“Tourism is effectively all about real people meeting other real people to experience together authenticity. The MTF is a flagship event for the entire region,” echoed the Vice Minister.

Mekong under the spotlight

Over the years, the MTF has been also a platform for new initiatives empowering local companies and groups of the six countries. The MIST(Mekong Innovative Startsup in Tourism) initiative is for its second year awarding local companies which truly help transforming the tourism industry in the region. Over 200 delegates were recorded for that session.

Other new initiatives were the Mini Mekong Movie Festival and Asia first conference on film marketing used as a tool to promote destination.

Following the launch of the Mini Mekong Movies four months ago, people have shared and tagged over 300 mini movies of 60 seconds or less with #MekongMoments and #Minis on their own social media platforms, including Instagram,Twitter, and Youtube. “The power of movies is enormous. Films effectively inspire people around the world. it helps making people travellers. With also the task of managing exposed destinations to keep a balance and not transforming destinations to an extend that they are totally destroyed by over-tourism,” described Rob Holmes, CEO of award-winning destination film production c

Ban Thai Kha Villagers performing dances for delegates of the Heritage session

ompany GLP Films.

Comments of Holmes over the power of films and its consequences are actually a general issue over the way tourism is growing. “Since the set-up of the MTCO 12 years ago, much has changed in the way to promote tourism. Social media, information through internet, air capacity with low cost airlines, the sharing economy segment, all are elements which totally transformed travel consumption. And MTF is here to also look at issues and solutions to them,” told Thraenhart.

The Plastic Issue

An entire session was then dedicated this year to plastic waste. Expert Jeremy Smith talked about the devastating effect of single-use plastic consumption in the world and particularly in the region but also about initiatives around the world to recycle, reuse or limit its impact.

“I heard that they are more plastic floating in oceans than stars in the galaxy. It is a very serious problem with Mekong countries, which not only contribute to that pollution but also suffer of it. MTF has been banning single-use plastic at the event. It was a first step but we need of course to do more,” said Steven Shipani, Senior Specialist at ADB who leads investment projects and technical assistance for the tourism sector in GMS.

“The special session ‘Mekong Opportunities and Threats- Plastic Pollution’  saw the launch of the Plastic Free Pledge social media campaign, which will be hosted on MekongMoments.com,” added Thraenhart.

Another important session will take place on Wednesday June 27, focusing on Buddhist Tourism, one of the fastest growing tourism segments in Asia, not only drawing international tourists into the GMS, and boosting domestic travel, but also contributes significantly to the local economies.

Another first at this year MTF was a special topic over Buddhist tourism. “Nakhon Phanom has been already for a long time a destination for buddhism pilgrimage with the presence of eight relic pagodas,” indicated Vice Minister Itthiphol Kunplome. The topic was also an opportunity to link together Buddhist destinations in the region with the aim to promote secondary destinations.

“We have a responsability to promote in a sustainable way tourism. To travel is to become a better person. I hope that the MTF contributed to that,” said Jens Thraenhart.

The next MTF will be hosted in Dali, Yunnan, in 2019, most probably in the second half of May.