Mekong Countries Passed the 70-Million International Arrivals’ Mark in 2018

Mekong tourism, GMS, Cambodia, China Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam

The Mekong River around Luang Prabang as seen in July 2017

All the member countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion enjoyed growth in foreign tourist arrivals in 2018, Thailand and Vietnam being the two largest destinations for inbound travellers. Last year, the region passed for the first time the 75-million travellers’ mark -by also including Chinese provinces of Guangxi and Yunnan- which represented a growth of close to 10.3% in total foreign arrivals.

Thailand represented 50.4% of all foreign arrivals, comforting its number one position in the GMS, although growth last year slowed down following the accident of a boat in Phuket which claimed life of many Chinese visitors. Vietnam recorded GMS highest growth rate at +19.9% due to further simplification of visa formalities and the opening of new international routes to more airports.

Vietnam now represents 20.5% of all arrivals to the region. Lowest growth was for Myanmar- up by only 3.5 %. The disappointing performance is due to the lack of good air connections beside Yangon and Mandalay as well as plunging numbers from western countries due to the Rohingya issue.

By contrary, Cambodia was the third fastest inbound destination in the GMS as the country is increasingly putting its tourism destiny in the hands of China. Chinese travellers to the Kingdom grew by a stunning 67.2% in 2017, the sharpest increase of Chinese travellers within the Greater Mekong Subregion.

China can be generally considered as the dominant source of in bound tourism for all GMS countries –excluding China provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi. China generated 18.75 million arrivals to Mekong countries and it is likely that this number will pass the 20-million mark in 2019.

Except for Laos where Chinese travellers represent ‘only’ 19.25% of all tourist arrivals, Chinese inbound markets have a share in all other countries ranging between 27% (for Myanmar and Thailand) to 32% for Cambodia and Vietnam.

International tourist arrivals for GMS member countries in 2017 and 2018

Country 2018 2017 Evolution 2018/17
Thailand 38,277,300 35,381,210 7.5%
Vietnam 15,497,791 12,922,151 19.9%
Cambodia 6,201,077 5,602,157 10.7%
Lao PDR 4,186,432 3,868,838 8.2%
Myanmar 3,551,428 3,443,133 3.5%
China-Yunnan1 5,499,365 5,080,000 8.2%
China-Guangxi1 2,703,0002 2,550,000 6.0%
TOTAL GMS 75,916,393 68,847,489 10.3%

1-      Exclude HK-Macau and Chinese Taipei travellers

2-      estimates