Visa liberalizations, reduction in red tape and an urgent
need for zoning to separate tourism from industrial developments were
attention grabbing words from the closing speaker William E. Heinecke at the
last day of the ninth Mekong Tourism Forum.
of PATA, government, TAT and representatives of Cambodia.
Heinecke, CEO of the Minor Group, entrepreneur and for
many people the Richard Branson of South East Asia, has invested in his
visions and in things where everybody else said, ‘this can’t be done’
including his large stake in the Four Seasons Chiang Mai.
Semone, VP Development PATA, introduced William E. Heinecke.
He publicly stated he is still believing and investing in
the Mekong region, but pointed out that he, as well as all other
international companies, is looking at investments on a global level which
will yield the greatest return for the shareholders. Is the Mekong an easy
boat trip? Not quite, since the Mekong region investments are still an
uphill struggle with poor infrastructure, lack of trained employees,
government bureaucracy, a lack of tax incentives and the prickly subject of
visas. He urged the regional governments to take a close look at how to
develop a policy to make their countries more attractive because if
investors are faced with a choice of investing in Phuket, which has good
infrastructure, direct international flights, tax incentives, a labor pool
of well trained English speaking people, the choice where to put the money
message to the Mekong region governments is: Act Now!”
Thailand has recognized the huge opportunity with China
and will sign an open skies agreement this year. But the government also has
to act now, rise to the occasion and open the door to the biggest tourism
boom and opportunity the region has ever seen. The government has to make it
easier to invest, they have to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and start
thinking globally while taking a clear look at China.
E. Heinecke receiving a well deserved token of appreciation from Peter de
Jong (President and CEO of PATA).
Heinecke had another strong point when he said,
“Governments must bear in mind that for most people, tourism is an escape
back to nature and I would like the Mekong region governments to consider
carefully the sometimes conflicting geographical interests between the
development of tourism and the development of trade. Leave the tourism areas
for tourists. Develop trade in other designated areas away from the main
tourism strongholds. Otherwise we shoot ourselves in the foot before we’re
even off the starting blocks.”
Hovatanakul, Thai International Chiang Mai office, receiving a certificate
of appreciation from Peter de Jong.
When he got to the ‘visa point’ he reminded everybody
of the already signed agreement in November 2002 to relax visa regulations,
which was probably again forgotten in a drawer but with all GMS governments
agreeing on a ‘Mekong visa’ or ‘visa on arrival’ system, the cross
border tourism traffic could flow easier and would boost all economies.
He spoke on the growth of the low cost airlines, the
launching of so many new roots and the entrepreneurs-pioneers who are not
followers, but leaders, who make opportunities, rather than wait for them
and who rather move forward quickly and stumble, but at least move forward.
According to Heinecke, “The GMS sits at the crossroads of the world’s
most dynamic region. To the north we have the largest potential travel
market in the world, to the south we have another - India. We have some of
the world most beautiful beaches, most breathtaking landscapes, the
world’s most hospitable people, and in short, we have opportunities that
the rest of the world only dreams about. But, as private investors we can
only go so far without government support. We are ready to work with the GMS
governments to responsibly develop the Mekong region. Let’s work towards a
future of mutual collaboration and in doing, create a region of prosperity