BANGKOK, 6 August 2020: Travel may have come to a standstill in Mekong Region countries, but it won’t stop tourism stakeholders engaging in ‘make-believe’ during a half-day virtual summit hosted by the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office 25 August.
The Virtual Destination Mekong Summit will be organised by public-private partnership Destination Mekong, with the sponsorship of UNWTO affiliate member Chameleon Strategies, under the theme of “Balanced Tourism Recovery for a Better Future”.
Registration is free. For the programme, and registration visit https://www.destinationmekong.com/dms2020/
Pursuing the lofty notion that the travel industry can manage a post-Covid-19 balanced recovery and create a better future is a big ask. In reality, tourism stakeholders are fighting for survival. Any kind of recovery would be welcomed, and as for a better future, most tour operators are more concerned that as long as governments keep borders shut to safeguard the health of the populace, they have no future.
It remains to be seen if the virtual summit can reach conclusions and present recommendations that might steer the governments of the six Mekong Region countries to establish a consensus on health policy and travel directives that will also throw a lifeline to the tourism and hospitality industries that are drowning fast in the global Covid-19 storm.
It will need to address the fact that the region’s tour operators have not served any genuine tourists since mid-March. Their rice bowl has shattered, and experts predict that within the next three to four months at least 50% of the Mekong Region’s travel firms will close shop. Big names will go.
As long as the 14-day quarantine rule applies in the Mekong Region tourism is dead in the water.
The introduction of expensive insurance cover and even cash deposits (Cambodia) is another deterrent at the border gate.
Finally, travel bubbles are a mythical story for the travel media to spin and provide false hope to small enterprises stripped of their cash flow.
Governments in the Mekong Region need to do more to financially support tour companies to reinvent themselves and possibly find ways to tap domestic markets no matter how small while they navigate a path to survival.
There is a need for more clarity, and travel rules should be streamlined and made less cumbersome. The entry procedures need to be better managed and identical in all Southeast Asian nations to build travel confidence. When Mekong Region countries erect obstacle courses to prevent their own citizens from returning home, then we can only assume it is even more difficult for foreigners to contemplate travel to the Mekong Region. That situation could continue until late 2021.
The first case of Covid-19 outside of China occurred in Thailand, 13 January 2020. Seven months later, Covid-19 fatigue is setting in across the region. The end game is not yet in sight. We fear second and third waves and entire health systems in all Mekong Region countries are stressed to breaking point.
Medical experts warn Covid-19 is rumbling around our region. ‘Balance’ and ‘better’ are not the watchwords. For the travel and hospitality firms at ground zero how to survive and avert disaster are top of mind.
IATA predicts airlines will not see a substantial recovery until 2024. By then, the entire travel landscape will have changed dramatically. Summit attendees should grapple with the real issues the ones that will mend the rice bowl fast for thousands of SMEs suffering the financial fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Destination Mekong Summit will be emceed by well-known academic JutamasWisangsing of Perfect Link Consulting, and Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office executive director, Jens Thraenhart.
It will have two short takeaway sessions, led by Horwath HTL Global Tourism Practice Leader SinišaTopalović, calling in from Croatia.
The opening keynote will be given by the author of the upcoming book “Travel & Covid-19”, Professor Dr Simon Hudson of South Carolina University in the USA, who will look at case studies from all over the world.
Reflections from past crisis’ and ideas will be discussed by WeearasakKowsurat, a Thai senator and former minister of tourism and Sports of Thailand and Htay Aung, former minister of hotels and tourism.
Steven Schipani from the Southeast Asia Department of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) will lead a session with the vice-chairman of the Vietnam Administration of Tourism (VNAT), Ha Van Sieu, and the director-general of the Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia, Rathasak Thong, about economic development measures as well as tourism recovery in the region.
Finally, the World Travel and Tourism Council CEO, Gloria Guevara, former UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, former minister of tourism and Sports of Thailand, KobkarnWattanavrangkul, and the Pacific Asia Travel Association CEO Mario Hardy will present recommendations and opinions.