SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia, 26 April 2023: As the Mekong Tourism Forum’s business sessions get underway today, we asked the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office executive director Suvimol Dee Thanasarakij if delegates and representatives of the six member countries (Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand) will discuss regional challenges that threaten tourism.
One of the pressing issues is the annual smog crisis which causes Air Quality Index levels to hit the hazardous zone score threatening the health, well-being and tourism economies of North Thailand, Central and North Laos and North Myanmar. Will the tourism leaders of the Greater Mekong Sub-region and tourism industry represented by the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office make their voice heard to introduce genuine sustainability that ensures economic well-being and health safety? Or will they watch the region’s communities and economies suffer a substantial shrinking of the annual tourism season caused by months of wildfires and commercial arson that destroys natural forests?
Developing new dam projects on the Mekong River that are now threatening river cruises and the livelihoods of riverside communities is another issue. There are concerns that iconic river cruises will ultimately disappear. Tour operators warn that Mekong River cruises are already being dramatically cut back as navigating the Mekong River in China, Laos, and Thailand becomes more difficult. Will the lineup of 16 dams (in the pipeline and already operating) ultimately destroy the river’s tourism appeal?
Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office executive director Suvimol Thanasarakij (Dee) comments on these core issues.
On the impact of smog and wildfires?
A: “The Government of Mekong Countries are aware of the impact of smog issues on people’s lives and tourism. To keep the tourists as safe as possible, tourism authorities make public announcements regularly, suggesting which spots should be avoided and which spots are ok to visit. In the meantime, the government authorities are discussing the transboundary haze issue with their neighbouring countries at a high level. At Mekong Tourism Forum, the environmental issues impacting tourism will be addressed under our theme “Rethinking for Resilience and Digitalisation.”
On the impact of dams on Mekong communities?
A: “The governments of the Mekong region, through the Mekong River Commission, have recently issued the “Vientiane Declaration” to reiterate the region’s commitment to cooperate and safeguard the river. While the countries see the economic benefits gained from large water infrastructure projects, addressing the growing risks and trade-offs is urgent. The Declaration calls for intensified cooperation among government sectors, partners and stakeholders to seek innovative solutions. Also, last year the new guidelines for hydropower dam design were launched to maximise the potential benefits of hydropower and other water-related development projects while minimising the significant harmful impact on the environment and the lives of Mekong people.
“At the Mekong Tourism Forum 2023, the conversation will be around the theme “Rethinking for Resilience and Digitalisation”. Of course, sustainable development to save the environment through innovative digitalisation is part of the rethinking of tourism, which will be reflected in the forum talks. Apart from that, Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) publishes web articles featuring the voices and thoughts of sustainability tourism leaders or role models from the public and private sectors in the Mekong Region on a bi-monthly basis. We do this to share their best practices, to inspire others and to recognise their great effort. MTCO also releases monthly newsletters, which capture sustainable development initiatives from the countries and issues around this region. The newsletters are available on our website www.mekongtourism.org.”
On relations with the NGO Destination Mekong
A: “Destination Mekong and MTCO, since the beginning, are two separate organisations, but we are great partners. MTCO runs our programmes, such as the Mekong Tourism Forum (conference, interactive panel discussions, sustainable tourism exhibit, disbursed tourism exhibit and post tours highlighting sustainable tourism practice), social media campaign #MekongPostcard, monthly newsletter and web content highlighting sustainable tourism thought leaders.
“Destination Mekong has been actively taking part in past Mekong Tourism Forum over recent years and at this week’s MTF as a speaker and sustainable tourism exhibit, while the MTCO takes part in some Destination Mekong activities, and we are looking to expand collaboration to support future projects.”
Photo credit: CNN. Helicopters deployed to douse wildfires in Laos and Thailand earlier this month.
See CNN post:
Link to Stimson graphic Mekong mainstream dams