As Siem Reap in Cambodia will welcome from May 7 to 8 the Mekong Tourism Forum, Mason Florence, executive director of the Mekong Tourism Coordination Office, looks at the Bangkok violence issue and speaks with eTurboNews about the outcome of the coming event. Under the theme, “New Roads, New Opportunities,” the 2010 edition of the Mekong Tourism Forum will look at the latest initiatives and the barriers that the six nations forming the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) – Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam – continue to face today. The forum is a great opportunity for tour operators or industry executives to get a vision of tourism in the GMS.
Among others, the forum will look at community tourism, new trends in travelers’ demand, and new tourism products such as individual 4-wheel tourism. “Over the last ten years, GMS countries as a tourism entity experienced a dramatic change of image. They are increasingly accessible and offer a greater variety of products to travelers,” said Mason Florence, head of Mekong Tourism. Of course not, they are still scope to improvement: “We still face problems in terms of visa issues or air transport links. But I can say that the various ministers of tourism and tourism administrations in each country are absolutely serious and committed to achieve more. But final decisions unfortunately do not rely on them only. It is a huge jigsaw puzzle with the ultimate target to turn the Mekong sub-region into a single destination,” he said. For example, the GMS single visa has been discussed for a long time but still faces numerous hurdles. “It is a fantastic idea, but this is a question of logistics: agreement about the authority issuing the visa or the share of the visa revenues among countries,” added Florence.
The forum will receive some 200 delegates, a few of them turning down the invitation due to the volcano ash problems in Europe and then erupting violence in Bangkok. How do, in fact, Thailand’s events affect the Mekong area? “Bangkok’s events affect the region as it is certainly the largest gateway to the GMS. Many tourists going to Laos or Cambodia do spend time in Bangkok. But on the other hand, the region has successfully built up its direct air links over the last ten years, allowing travelers to come by non-stop flights to many destinations within the GMS. And as highways link now China to Thailand through Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, it is also easy to travel by car,” told Florence.
For him, Thailand’s pivotal role in the build-up of Mekong tourism will weaken in the years to come. “Most travelers will continue to combine their stay in Indochina with a stay in Thailand as it is by far the country with the most sophisticated infrastructure,” he added.
Would a prolonged disruption in Thailand take its toll on future growth in the region? “In the long term, I do not think so. Look at previous crises that Thailand has faced over the last five years. The Kingdom has been exposed to many challenges, both natural and political. Every time, Thailand has been able to bounce back extremely rapidly. I must underline that TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) and the ministry of tourism in Thailand have always show their efficiency and come out very rapidly with recovery plans. I am sure that they [have] prepared already plans [for] as soon as Thailand will be back to normal. Meanwhile, life goes on for the rest of the region.”