Mekong Tourism Forum Looked After Sustainability and Culture in Yunnan

MTCO, MTF, Yunnan, Greater Mekong Sub-region

The hosting of the Mekong Tourism Forum in Dali, Yunnan, was an opportunity to highlight the continuous efforts done by the six countries forming the Greater Mekong Sub-region to preserve culture and heritage thanks to tourism, which can play the role of a guardian for an authentic experience.

The last edition of the Mekong Tourism Forum just finished in Dali Yunnan with the theme being “Tourism – a driver for cultural heritage preservation and poverty alleviation”. The thematic was to look after the strong connection between tourism and culture.

The 2019 edition of the Mekong Tourism Forum was hosted by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China (MCT). It took place in two cities of Yunnan, one of the two Chinese provinces being a member of the GMS. The city of Dali- Yunnan third largest destination in terms of visitors- and the nearby city of Xizhou, considered one of the best preserved historical town of living heritage.

Yunnan was the choice as it is one of the most visited provinces by foreign travellers coming to China PRC. According to the Yunnan Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism, the number of overseas tourists to Yunnan increased 5% in 2018 over the previous year, translating into a total of over seven million foreign travellers. This was a stronger performance than the general growth in inbound tourism in China, which was just up by 1.5% last year. Domestic tourism grew by 18% to reach 657 million travellers. Tourism revenues of Yunnan province reached 845 billion yuan, growing 22% year-on-year-equivalent to US$122.14 billion.

There was also a geo-political motivation to the choice of the province as the host to the MTF. Both China government and Yunnan provincial authorities want to turn Yunnan Province into the Chinese gateway for tourists originated from South and Southeast Asia.

Yunnan is consequently the most connected province to other Mekong countries. They are regular flights linking Kunming to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Danang, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Krabi, Luang Prabang, Phnom Penh, Phuket, Phu Quoc, Siem Reap, Pattaya/U-Tapao, Vientiane and Yangon. Flights also link Jinghong (Xishuangbanna) to Luang Prabang. By late 2021/early 2022, a new rail route will connect Kunming to Boten, Luang Prabang and Vientiane with further connections to Bangkok.

The 2019 Mekong Tourism Forum emphasized ways to foster sustainability in tourism and its positive influence for protection cultural assets. The Forum consequently hosted sessions on topics including:
– rail tourism as a driver to sustainability;
– the management of sustainable and responsible tourism in GMS destinations –including
the presentation of MTCO new “Mekong Trends Snapshot Report on Responsible
Tourism”;
– a presentation by Dali-native writer and head of travel company “Wild China” about the
impact of tourism in preserving cultural heritage in Yunnan and particularly in Dali;
– the influence of small enterprises as sustainability’s drivers and the importance of story-
telling to promote destinations.

Image result for Xizhou
Xizhou old town (photo: wikimedia commons)

The second day took delegates to Xizhou Ancient Town. The traditional city is part of the Dali Prefecture and emphasizes China’s efforts to strongly link tourism and culture with preservation and conservation being the core to ensure sustainability.

“We were thrilled by the possibility to host the Mekong Tourism Forum in Dali, one of Yunnan most scenic destinations to visit and we want to extend our warmest gratitude to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of P.R. China. The excursion to Xizhou was a living testimony of ways to intimately link tourism and heritage without destroying the authenticity of a destination,’ said Jens Thraenhart, Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO).