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Ninth Mekong tourism forum opens in Chiang Mai

The Ninth Mekong Tourism Forum commenced in Northern Thailand with a call for more …

The Ninth Mekong Tourism Forum commenced in Northern Thailand with a call for more entrepreneurship in the six states and territories bordering the Mekong river.

In his opening keynote speech entitled, The Greater Mekong Sub-region in the 21st Century: Tourism as a Growth Engine, Professor Kaye Chon of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, told delegates that enhancing and maintaining high quality services is of utmost importance in today`s highly competitive tourism industry environment. He added: We have to recognise that the economic viability of small- to medium-size enterprises largely hinges on the quality of human resources and available entrepreneurship skills.

Destinations in the Mekong region will have to pay greater attention not only to the development of physical infrastructure of tourism, but also to service quality, he said.

The Ninth Mekong Tourism Forum is organised by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). The Forum is being hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

A total of 189 representatives from governments, international organisations and travel-related companies from across the Mekong region are attending the Forum. The theme of this year`s event, held at the Sheraton Chiang Mai, is Position, Promote and Protect.

In his opening remarks, PATA President and CEO, Mr. Peter de Jong called for delegates to produce tangible objectives and a clear agenda for ongoing cooperation between the six Mekong countries and territories — Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Yunnan in southern China (PRC).

In 1996, the year of the first Mekong Tourism Forum, the Mekong region attracted 10.4 million international visitors, he said. In 2002 the figure was 16.5 million. However, with growth comes a heightened dependency on a sustainable flow of visitors. The Mekong Forum aims to protect achievements made in the last eight years and then position and promote sustainable growth for the years ahead.

During the two-day event, a range of international experts will deliver insights on subjects such as Mekong tourism products and provide an overview of strategies and policies for tourism planning.

Mr. Alfredo Perdiguero, Project Economist, Social Sectors Division, Mekong Department, Asian Development Bank said: Tourism is one of the best instruments to reduce poverty through increased foreign exchange earnings and taxes, diversified regional development and employment creation.

He added: The tremendous growth in Greater Mekong Sub-region tourism needs to be sustained through the development of new tourism products and innovative marketing strategies. At the same time we need to simultaneously protect the cultural and environmental heritage of the Mekong-region countries. This is the only basis for a sustainable development of the sector. This is why the motto of the Forum this year, `protect, position and promote,` becomes so relevant.

Mr. Ryuji Yamakawa, Chief, Tourism Unit, Transport and Tourism Division, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, (UNESCAP) said: The Greater Mekong Sub-region offers experiences not found elsewhere in the world. It offers the world`s most promising growth prospects.

New tourism forecast figures released by PATA show that international visitor arrivals will average 7.4% a year in the Mekong region for the 10-year period 1996-2006.

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