MTF adopts lofty conference theme

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CHIANG RAI, 16 May 2018: ‘Transforming travel, transforming lives’ slips off the tongue easily enough, but it’s a theme that could prove to be a tall order for the Mekong Tourism Forum, due to meet 26 to 29 June in Nakhon Phanom, a town bordering Laos on the banks of the Mekong River.

The theme suggests that it is possible to transform travel and in doing so transform lives. Travel has been ingrained in the economies of the Mekong region countries for decades with Thailand the leading light, now heading for 38 million tourists annually, followed by Vietnam expecting to close 2018 with 15.5 million visits.

Laos is sandwiched in between these two Mekong region giants and the push to promote overland travel turns its highways into travel corridors with hardly a dollar dropped by the wayside.

Transforming travel could mean shifting from sightseeing trips, that cocoon tourists in air-conditioned buses covering hundreds of kilometres in a single day, to slow tourism  involving communities and the crucial element of learning from one another.

That kind of travel transformation would certainly transform lives by leaving more foreign exchange earnings with communities instead of being stashed in the bulging bank accounts of major travel or hospitality corporations.

The Mekong Tourism Forum sets itself apart from other events for just that reason. It looks at ways to reinvent tourism to make it a more personal and shared experience and most of all relevant to villages and rural communities.

Yet the challenges are immense for the MTF organisers, who have to juggle commercial interest and avoid unmentionable subjects that threaten the very existence of the Mekong region.

It’s an association of six countries – Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar Thailand and Vietnam – but over the years and tied to a pauper’s budget the Mekong Tourism Office relies on good will volunteerism. It’s very existence is often called into question and that is likely to continue as China eyes a bigger say in the region.

However, if we wish to transform travel to transform lives then no better forum can be found to discuss how that lofty objective can indeed become a reality.

As for transforming lives, the river itself is at risk. There are hundreds of dams, either open, or in the construction phase that threaten the livelihoods of rural communities. Described as an economic and cultural lifeline the Mekong River is challenged by the demand for cheap energy. The negative impact on communities if more dams are built cannot be ignored by the travel industry.

We might suggest that dams have nothing to do with Mekong tourism, but the reality is that ultimately they will change the river and its communities. The region will lose its most valuable tourism asset.  We have to join the debate on the future of the Mekong River and play a role in ensuring that one of the world’s mighty waterways it is not damaged or lost.

By transforming travel to focus on communities to transform lives requires the travel industry of the region to face the challenges that could destroy Mekong River life forever. Dams and industries that threaten the river’s sensitive  environment will ultimately threaten tourism.

Mekong Tourism Forum’s organisers are hopeful that conference theme will get us thinking outside of the box to reach new conclusions on how tourism works with communities.

If we want to transform lives by transforming travel are we really ready to pay the price?

If we put culture, communities and environment first then we have adopt a very different business model that the one driving tourism in all Mekong Region countries today.

The Mekong Tourism Office should be the thought leader, bringing together those who have solutions.  That’s why anyone who cares about Mekong River tourism should be there to join the debate in Nakhon Phanom. If there is no debate then start one.

More information can be found at www.MekongTourismForum.org. Registration is free, but mandatory at:  https://www.zipeventapp.com/e/Mekong-Tourism-Forum-2018

The destination and MTF venue

MTF’s main events and meetings will be hosted at Nakhon Phanom University.

Nakhon Phanom in Northeastern Thailand will give delegates the opportunity to experience a historical town where various cultures have been blending for a long time with the presence of Isan Thai, ethnic local communities as well as Lao, Chinese and Vietnamese communities who settled often due to historical reasons.

MTF Highlights:

Mekong Mini Movie Festival
On Wednesday afternoon, 27 June, the First Film & Destination Marketing Conference will explore the power of visual storytelling to promote destinations – followed by the screening of some of the most inspiring videos from the Mekong Mini Movie Festival campaign.

Mekong Innovative Startups in Tourism (MIST)
On Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning, 26 and 27 June, the Travel Innovation Conference and the Travel Startups pitches respectively will reveal the most promising startups and trends from MIST to the travel and tourism industry.

Mekong Tourism Forum – Transforming Travel (Part 1)
On Wednesday afternoon, 27 June, discussions ranging from Buddhist Tourism to Responsible Tourism focus on the potential of transforming travel and people’s lives.

Mekong Tourism Forum – Transforming Travel (Part 2)
On Thursday morning, 28 June, mini keynotes from senior travel executives coming from different sectors, all focusing on transformative travel. Our second Mekong Opportunities & Threats sessions will focus on key issues that are vital to focus on as an industry to develop the region in a responsible way, pitched by young travel professionals, native to the GMS.

Mekong Tourism Forum – Transforming Travel (Part 3) 
On Thursday afternoon, 28 June, delegates will actually look at transforming travel and transforming lives in real-time. As a first in travel and tourism conferences, worldwide, eight thematic sessions from Adventure Tourism to Religious Tourism will be hosted in eight community-based villages around Nakhon Phanom.

Participants will experience a traditional village welcome ceremony and an authentic lunch followed by the thematic workshop and an interactive village experience to engage in weaving, fishing, and other activities.

MTF is free to attend, but capacity is limited. In order to give back to the local communities, delegates are asked to pay THB 1,200 (around USD 30) to cover expenses for villages such as food, activities but also to provide a special traditional shirt from their respective village for each delegate attending the Thursday Part 3 event.

MTF Programme

DAY 1 26 Jun 2018
0830
Nakhon Phanom University
MTF 2018 registration & hospitality desk opens

0900 – 1130
Nakhon Phanom University – Naga Raj Room
Mekong Innovative Startup Tourism (MIST) – Travel Startup Conference

1130-1200
Nakhon Phanom University – Naga Raj Room
Working with Influential Content Creators

1200-1330
Nakhon Phanom University
Lunch

1330-1700
Nakhon Phanom University – Srikotraboon Conference Center (3rd Floor)
Mekong Mini Movie Festival – Film & Destination Marketing Conference

1700-1730
Nakhon Phanom University
Networking Break

1730-1830
Nakhon Phanom University – Srikotraboon Conference Center (3rd Floor)
Mekong Mini Movie Festival – Film Screening & Awards Ceremony

1900-2100
River Hotel
Mekong Mini Movie Festival – Cocktail Reception

DAY 2, 27 Jun 2018
0900-1200
Nakhon Phanom University
Mekong Innovative Startups In Tourism (Mist) – Travel Startup Pitches

1200-1330
Nakhon Phanom University
Lunch

1330-1530
Nakhon Phanom University – Srikotraboon Conference Center (3rd Floor)
Mekong Tourism Forum – Official Opening Ceremony

1530-1600
Nakhon Phanom University
Networking Reception

1530-1600
Nakhon Phanom University – Rama Raj Room
Press Conference

1600-1800
Nakhon Phanom University – Srikotraboon Conference Center (3rd Floor)
Mekong Tourism Forum – Transforming Travel

1800-1900
Nakhon Phanom University
Mekong Tourism Forum – Pre-Dinner Reception

1900-2130
Nakhon Phanom University – Srikotraboon Conference Center (3rd Floor)
Mekong Tourism Forum – Gala Awards Dinner

DAY 3, 28 Jun 2018
0830-1200
Nakhon Phanom University
Mekong Tourism Forum – Plenary Keynote Sessions

1200-1700
Ethic Villages In Nakhon Phanom
Mekong Tourism Forum – Village Experience

1800-2100
Blu Hotel Nakhon Phanom
Mekong Tourism Forum – Farewell Food Festival

DAY 4, 29 Jun
0800-1800
Nakhon Phanom
Mekong Tourism Forum – Technical Post Tours

1000-1200
R Photo Hotel
Mekong Tourism Advisory Group – Metag Meeting