BANGKOK, 1 June 2020: It came as no surprise to the region’s travel executives, when the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) took a rain check on its annual get together announcing the event would now be held in Bagan, Myanmar, in early 2021.
There were forlorn hopes that Myanmar would host the annual Mekong Tourism Forum in August after the event was postponed earlier in the year. But a straw poll of MTCO followers dashed that hope when almost to a person they all said they would not attend the event planned for Bagan 25 to 26 August.
They cited the uncertainties of lockdown regulations, quarantine requirements on their return home, travel bans, the absence of airline services and health risk joining a meeting of around 300 people.
They are the exact same reasons why travellers are going to avoid travel to the Mekong Region until governments can assure them it is safe.
Like most events scheduled for this year, the Mekong Tourism Forum will now shift its attention to a more practical and possibly safer time slot of 15 to 16 February.
The same could occur for a lineup of trade shows due to be hosted in Southeast Asia during September and October. There is even speculation that the World Travel Market in London could be in jeopardy as the venue is now an emergency hospital christened ‘Nightingale 1’ where just 50 Covid-19 patients received treatment over the last three weeks. However, it remains an insurance policy project just in case there is a second wave of infections later in the year.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that any meeting of the size of the Mekong Tourism Forum, with 300 or more delegates, can be safely hosted as long as there is no vaccine or cure for Covid-19.
But the tourism industry in Myanmar is confident that Bagan, a UNESCO World Heritage site designated in July 2019, will host the MTF next February. The theme will still be “Achieving Balanced Tourism”, with a focus on rebuilding tourism in the Greater Mekong Subregion.
MTCO director Jens Thraenhart puts his thumb on the trouble spot. He says: “While nobody can predict if travel will be possible in February and whether people will be comfortable being together at a conference with hundreds of delegates, we are now setting the new dates, and hope for the best.”
Due to postponing the Bagan forum dates to 2021 he also confirmed that Vietnam will now host of the Mekong Tourism Forum in 2022.
MTCO is an umbrella organisation geared to promoting tourism to the Mekong Region funded by six countries, Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.