BANGKOK, 5 January 2015: Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports says tourism package among the six member countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) should be organised to increase arrivals to the region.
The GMS countries are Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and China’s Yunnan province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Tourism and Sports Minister, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, said the GMS members agreed to assign Thailand as the coordinator to create tourism packages that cover the six-country region.
“In the past, each GMS member country conducted independent marketing activities attempting to persuade tourists to visit just their own country, but there was a lack of connectivity or cooperation…so the packages are also not very popular among tourists.”
She added: “The member countries agreed, at the 5th GMS Summit meeting, last month, that a tourism package should be organised and Thailand — which is centrally located in the region and has most tourists visiting the country — should be the coordinator.”
Initially, there are two routes that will be promoted in the plan. The first route will link Thailand, Laos and Vietnam in which tourists will pass through the Thai border province of Nakhon Phanom. The second route is for tourists to visit Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.
To activate the scheme, relevant authorities from these countries will need to discuss and map out tourism strategies.
However, the minister is overlooking the fact that the Tourism Authority of Thailand supported regional tourism routes in the Mekong by funding and staffing the Agency for Mekong Tourism Cooperation from 2000. Later, the agency merged into the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office funded by the six countries. It outlined specific tourism packages that could be developed by private travel firms in manual it published and distributed to the trade.
In addition, scores of regional tour operators, who have offices throughout the Mekong Region, have been selling and marketing tourism packages that cover part, or all of the Mekong countries for decades. Diethelm Travel and Asian Trails are two of note that pioneered Mekong tourism packages. Private sector travel firms would argue that the GMS ministers need to do their homework first on what is now selling and is widely available in the market. The ministers need to concentrate on supporting the trade by removing barriers to travel and leave the creation of tourism packages to experts in the private sector.
However, Thailand’s tourism minister correctly pointed out that a single visa remained a barrier to promoting convenient travel and as long as security issues were high on the agenda it was unlikely to change.
“Thailand and Cambodia launched a single visa for both countries in late 2012, but the scheme has not been popular among visitors because it is still not easy to get. It takes at least three days for each country to grant the two-country visa.”
Thailand has good prospects to become a regional hub for tourism because it physically and logistically links to other destinations in the Mekong region. However, the idea of tourists getting one visa to visit the entire Mekong region is tough to achieve because nations are concerned about security, she added.
Under the umbrella of ACMECS, the five countries — Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar have already agreed in principle on a single visa. It was initiated in 2005, under the concept known as “Five Countries, One Destination” and continues to be in a preparatory stage. However, Thailand and Cambodia jointly introduced the single visa scheme, late 2012, as a pilot project.