The Mekong Tourism Forum 2015 at the Novotel Danang Premier Han River opened yesterday with a warm welcome to delegates from across the Greater Mekong sub-region, and to speakers from around the world. The focus for Mekong Tourism at this year’s forum is to look at how the region can reach its potential by addressing the key components of marketing, social media and investment.
The forum opened with the Mekong Tourism Workshop, where presentations from industry experts were followed by a range of discussions in which delegates were invited to participate. The theme for this year’s forum is “Unlocking the Potential of Mekong Tourism via Innovative Partnerships”, and the basis for accomplishing this was the Five P’s: Positioning, Promotion, Product development, Partnerships, and Policies.
Specifically, the discussions focused upon River-Based Tourism, led by the UNWTO; Community-Based Tourism, led by PATA; Adventure Tourism, courtesy of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA); and Food Tourism, with insights from John Koldowski of Thammasat University, Thailand.
River-Based Tourism poses particular challenges, but in a region which takes its name from one of the world’s great rivers, it also provides wonderful opportunities if partnerships can overcome obstacles. Cross-border co-operation must be improved; the Mekong serves Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and China and offers access to a rich cultural heritage along its course. Environmental issues must also rise to the fore, with a focus upon sustainability through improving operator practices along the region’s waterways.
In the field of Community-Based Tourism, one of the biggest issues for discussion in the region is that of human rights. Many communities within the region are not yet able to fully exercise their human rights, and the tourism industry should play its part in promoting both practical and policy changes which might alleviate the situation of those groups.
The situation for Adventure Tourism was one of broad optimism, with claims that the genre represents the future of tourism. The market is currently worth $263 billion dollars, and encompasses a diverse range of physical activities, along with cultural exchanges and environmental travel. Given the diversity of the region’s untapped natural resources which appeal to a younger foreign demographic, and the fact that the local population is characterized by both its youth and a growing middle class, the regional potential for Adventure Tourism would appear to be strong.
The final discussion topic was Food Tourism, which would also appear to be well served by a region already well known for its Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine. Indeed, one of the destinations already listed as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy is Chengdu, which of course lies within the Mekong sub-region. The Mekong in fact presents a common gastronomic theme, since its people share a common taste in food and share the same source of ingredients, albeit with local variations along the way. One great example is hotpot, which is made in China with yak meat, but is still available in different forms all the way down through Thailand to Vietnam. While the discussion didn’t really touch upon what the region could do specifically to promote food tourism, one key point was highlighted: food safety and hygiene. When visitors are seduced by the local food, it is essential that they don’t get more than they bargained for and find themselves suffering stomach troubles – so a greater emphasis on food hygiene standards is a must if the region is to further enhance its reputation.
All in all, the opening day provided an interesting start for Mekong Tourism, and so far Danang has certainly proved itself to be a city on the rise.