The Mekong Tourism Forum (MTF) 2023 under the theme of “Rethinking for Resilience and Digitalization” concluded successfully at the Independence Hotel in Preah Sihanoukville, Cambodia on 26 April 2023.
Over 200 international and local delegates participated in the MTF. The event was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism, Cambodia, in collaboration with the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) with support from the Asian Development Bank. The MTF also welcomed the participation of the Ambassador of Laos to Cambodia, representatives from the Embassy of Japan and the Embassy of China, and senior officials from the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) countries.
MTF 2023 focused on rethinking the future of GMS tourism while leveraging digitalization to ensure resilient and inclusive growth in the post-COVID-19 era. Regional tourism leaders, experts, and businesses gathered to discuss critical challenges as well as high-priority issues to chart the way forward for regional tourism.
Representing the host country, H.E. Dr. Thong Khong, Minister of Tourism, Cambodia, said in his opening remarks: “The key stakeholders from the public and private sectors gathering together today will create unique opportunities to spearhead innovative and collaborative frameworks for tourism recovery towards resilience in this post COVID-19 era and bring back what we have lost in tourism.”
“Tourism is one of the priority sectors contributing to socio-economic development through job creation, poverty reduction, investment, infrastructure development, as well as the protection and conservation of cultural heritage and natural resources,” added H.E. Mr. Kouch Chamroeun, Governor of Preah Sihanouk Province, Cambodia.
Mr. Peter Semone, Chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, set the stage with a keynote speech on the pathway for building better and stronger tourism. Rethinking tourism for resilience and sustainability in the GMS should focus on managing and measuring tourism as an integrated ecosystem; optimizing efficiencies along the tourism value chain; treating tourism workers better; renewing the approach to entrepreneurship and innovation; facilitating the growth and prosperity of micro, small and medium enterprises; empowering communities in tourism; responding to the needs wants and responsibilities of visitors; as well as managing the intersection of tourism and technology.
Recognizing food experiences as a critical driver of tourism growth in the GMS, a focused expert perspective session was delivered by Mr. Luu Meng, President of the Cambodia Tourism Federation (CTF), explaining holistic ways to build a sustainable food system by leveraging digital technologies.
MTF 2023 presented three insightful panel discussions on challenges, opportunities, and strategic actions related to building a smart tourism ecosystem, redefining gender roles to empower women, and enhancing the quality of the tourism workforce for a resilient future. Each panel featured a diverse pool of industry experts from the public sector, tourism businesses, and development organizations, including AirAsia, Amadeus, the Asian Development Bank, Canopy Sands Development, Swisscontact, and UNWTO, among others.
Another highlight of the MTF was a sustainable tourism exhibition showcasing responsible tourism businesses from across the region that generate positive impacts on the environment and local communities. The participating exhibitors included the Cambodian Handicraft Association for Landmine and Polio Disabled (CHA), Canopy Sand, Cardamom Tented Camp, Destination Mekong, HoKa Skills Demonstration, Koh Samseb Community-Based Tourism, Song Saa Collective, SPOONS Cambodia Organization, Three Corner Coffee Roaster, the Union of Myanmar Travel Association, and the Myanmar Tourism Marketing Association.
A technical visit was arranged on 27 April for delegates to explore the natural gems of the offshore island Koh Rong. Exclusively organized for MTF delegates, the tour offered a chance to enjoy the clear waters and participate in a community-based ecotourism program involving mangrove forest planting and beach cleaning activities at Prek Koang Kang Ecotourism Community.
“As the co-organizer of MTF, I am thrilled to see a great turnout for this event. We are excited to see the profile of MTF delegates evolving and expanding, with more participation from international organizations, development partners, women-focused organizations, and, importantly, local communities, including the disabled, at the grassroots level. It is our role to foster inclusive growth in the tourism sector in the GMS region,” said Ms. Suvimol Thanasakakij, Executive Director of MTCO.
MTF 2023 was preceded by the 51st Meeting of the Greater Mekong Subregion Tourism Working Group (51st GMS TWG) and the MTCO Board Meeting on 25 April. MTF 2024 will be held in Lijiang, China next May.