Private sector to unlock Mekong development

Strong growth in tourism in the Greater
Mekong Sub-region will be boosted by a raft of policies and projects endorsed this week by six
Mekong-region governments.The governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the Yunnan and
Guangxi provinces of China, addressed the Mekong Tourism Investment Summit in Luang
Prabang, March 28-30. They reported that their proposed 29 tourism policy,
investment and infrastructure initiatives would make investment easier. The
initiatives would also channel growth towards socially responsible projects in an
area where 60 million people still earn less than US$1 a day.

The Asian Development Bank is expected to fund some of the projects. “The ADB’s
over-arching objective is to achieve sustainable tourism development and channel the
benefits more widely to reduce poverty, empower women and minimize adverse impacts,”
said Alfredo Perdiguero, ADB’s project economist for tourism in the Mekong region.

As part of the broad easing of travel restrictions, Thailand and Cambodia are
preparing a joint tourism visa that Thai officials said would be ready by August.

Bangkok Airways’ CEO, Dr Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth called for the timeline for a
common Mekong sub-region visa to be reduced from 10 years to five. “We would also
like to see an open-skies policy for the Mekong sub-region finalized within a year
or two. Then trade and investment would come easier,” he said.

The chief of Bangkok Airways, Thailand’s largest private-sector airline, requested
hotel companies to put more rooms into heritage destinations such as Danang and Hue
in Vietnam and Lao PDR?s Luang Prabang, which also needed a new airport, he said.


To coordinate Mekong sub-region tourism development, the six governments are
financing the Mekong Tourism Office which opened in Bangkok in February to drive the
sub-region’s tourism agenda. The Greater Mekong Sub-region Tourism Sector Strategy
2006-2015 has identified US$61.8 worth of investment requirements, much of it in 13
cross-border zones or corridors in the sub-region.

Delegates also called for the streamlining and increased transparency of investment
policies into one-stop centres, or for procedures to be migrated fully online.
Thailand’s tourism investment and incentive procedures were identified as a possible
model for the other five destinations to emulate.

Recommendations from the Summit will be discussed by Mekong sub-region tourism
ministers at the PATA Annual Conference in Pattaya, Thailand on April 24.

International visitor arrivals to the Mekong sub-region have grown at an average of
7.2% per year since 1995.