Mekong: Opening travel east and west

HOI AN, 4 October 2017: Vietnam says it will pursue a two-year action plan to encourage tourism along what is called the East-West Corridor, a route that could ultimately link Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar through their central regions.

Vietnam National Administration of Tourism introduced the two-year action plan saying it would introduce new travel products for niche markets such as adventure tours, cultural tours based around festivals, food tourism and architectural-based tours linked to the region’s rich history and art.

The plan came up for an airing at the first East West Economic Corridor (EWEC) Technical Tour and Workshop, co-chaired by VNAT and the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office last month.



The East West Economic Corridor project is one of 11 multi-country thematic routes that are at the core of the 2015-2020 Experience Mekong Tourism Marketing Strategy. But developing travel products and itineraries for the 11 thematic routes has so far failed to capture the imagination of travel planners, travellers, or even the tourism boards that promote tourism linking ASEAN or Mekong Region countries.

Plans for a road corridor linking Myanmar’s coastal ports and Yangon to ports on Vietnam’ central coastal region date back to the late 1990s. Asian Development Bank funded studies and claimed the entire road corridor would be a reality by 2005. Some progress has been made, but the bottleneck is the difficult mountain terrain in Myanmar and the need to build, or improve highways, covering 450 km from the border with Thailand to Yangon.

Country transport regulations are also major obstacles preventing free-and-easy overland travel along the East-West Economic Corridor.  They stymie efforts to streamline overland travel across the Mekong Region (Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam).

However, the corridor will ultimately provide a route to transport cargo overland between ports on the Indian Ocean and South China Seas, Whether the route  becomes popular with tourists is an entirely different proposition.

Apart from cycling the 1,500 km distances east-west between Vietnam and Myanmar other modes of overland leisure transport, except for local bus services, are heavily restricted or non-existent. For example, self drive car travel along the corridor remains a dream mainly due to the draconian rules on car travel in Vietnam and at the other end of the corridor a close door to self-drive car travel at the border with Myanmar and its varied political and security concerns.

This leaves travellers with the option of hopping from one destination to the next on low-cost airline flights. The cost is lower than many of the overland travel options and saves time. But it fails to meet the original vision of the strategy that was established to disperse travellers on overland trips to spread economic benefits from tourism to communities on the corridor route.

The techincial tour and workshop event was attended by tourism representatives from Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

At the close of the event, delegates participating in the workshop agreed that travel along the EWEC route has potential due to the rich natural and cultural resources.

VNAT’s Travel Industry Management Department director general, Nguyen Quy Phuong said: “Vietnam is committed to developing the EWEC route as a sustainable travel destination, by appealing to specific visitor segments interested in unique experiences in such areas as culture, history, heritage, nature, sports, gastronomy, religion and health.

“Collaborating with our EWEC member countries and bringing in our combined resources and expertise will allow us to co-develop and promote the multi-country destination together”, he added.

The four-day technical tour saw delegates visit tourist points in Vietnam linked to the EWEC route, such as Quang Binh province, famous for its seaside and marine products; the well preserved ancient city of Hue and the coastal city of Danang and Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

MTCO executive director Jens Thraenhart said promoting multi-country travel and secondary destinations to drive visitor distribution to increase all-inclusive growth, was one of the focal areas of the MTCO.

“Multi-country travel in the GMS allows travellers to experience the distinct history of the region while being immersed in local culture. The EWEC creates the potential for the four member countries to develop a world-class multi-country tourism destination, combining rich colonial architecture, local culture and heritage as well as adventure travel experiences to caves, rivers and mountains,” he said.

Some of the focal points of the meeting included the development of infrastructure and cross border facilitation between each of the EWEC member countries.

There were discussions on developing products focusing on key target markets and demographics by recognising the growth of regional travel.