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Mekong Tourism Forum

PATA Mekong Tourism Forum ended with a “Chiang Mai” declaration

Chiang Mai looking at the tourism statistics

Mekong Tourism Forum

Heinecke blasts inaction and infrastructure

Marion Vogt
Photos Michael Vogt

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.

VIP’s 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.

Peter 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 is easy.

“My 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.

William 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.”

Prakaidao 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 for everyone.”

PATA Mekong Tourism Forum ended with a “Chiang Mai” declaration

Reinhard Hohler

The outcome of the 9th Mekong Tourism Forum in Chiang Mai during March 26-28, 2004 ended with a declaration to reinvigorate tourism cooperation within the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS) and strengthen the public and private sectors of the six countries, Yunnan/China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The proceedings were based on three brainstorming breakout sessions conducted by Peter Semone, Vice-President of PATA, and the participation by most of the delegates from 20 countries brought forth several short and long term recommendations with the intention to implement them during the next twelve months, prior to the 10th Mekong Tourism Forum to be held in Siem Reap on March 25-27, 2005.

Answering questions were (from left) Ryuji Yamakawa, Chief Tourism Unit Transport Policy and Tourism Section/UNESCAP; Alfredo Perdiguero, Social Sectors Division, ADB; and Peter de Jong, President and CEO, PATA.

Some of the recommendations are very urgent to implement, such as establishing an agency for coordinating Mekong Tourism Activities (AMTA) as a legally registered organization in Thailand. As Chiang Mai will be developed as the aviation hub for the GMS, it should be logical and also practical to locate the operational basis of AMTA in Chiang Mai. Furthermore, Chiang Mai has the reputation as being more cost efficient and economically sounder than Bangkok.

1. Establishing an advisory committee chaired by PATA to set the key performance indicators, goals and objectives by the National Tourism Organizations (NTOs) for AMTA.

2. Developing a curriculum and concept paper on eco-tourism and community-based tourism by relying on the work of the World Tourism Organization (WTO), which is an arm of the UN, and supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

3. Working out an official position on how to deal with the media on tourism related issues regarding the GMS.

4. Examining and quantifying the branding of the GMS through market research conducted by AMTA.

5. Developing a database for the GMS exclusively to send newsletters on a regular basis and also developing e-marketing with regular updates, including vital links to PATA, ADB and UNESCAP, plus adding a calendar of events concerning all six GMS countries.

6. Involving UNESCO and also the private sector to participate more actively in the Mekong Tourism Forum within the next decade.

8. Developing a brand new style of marketing the GMS with an emphasis on special interests and celebrations.

9. Kick-starting a campaign to cluster sister cities in the GMS, similar to the concept in Europe.

10. Reserving the Mekong as a romantic tourism highway for many generations to come and facilitate easy travel on all frontlines.

Chiang Mai looking at the tourism statistics

Not looking all that healthy

Jiraphat Warasin and Linda Ratchai

The Tourism Business Association held another seminar looking at just where Chiang Mai really is on the Thailand tourism map. The seminar was held at the Empress Hotel, and registrants were told bluntly that of only 33 percent of tourists revisit Chiang Mai, and of that number, only 18 percent are from abroad.

In addition, Chiang Mai is not the second city when tourist numbers are concerned, being now only 4th after Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya.

Boonlert Perera, president of Chiang Mai Tourism Business Association said today’s tourism business trend has changed. For example, half of the tourists were now making their room reservations through Internet. The investment of competitors in new segments and the outbreak of SARS last year has turned tourists’ attention to the Caribbean and Maldives.

It was also evident that many of the tourism entrepreneurs were foreigners which would appear to show that Thai entrepreneurs had a lack of understanding in the needs of tourists. Tourists do not want only sightseeing tours but they are also interested in sustainable tourist destinations. Competitor countries are putting their special events in brochures to attract custom while Thai entrepreneurs still only produced general brochures without mentioning special events.

Chiang Mai Tourism Business Association, Chiang Mai University, and J.E Austin from the United States are cooperating to launch the competitive competence study program, which is called the cluster cooperation. From previous studies, Chiang Mai’s strong point is adventure tourism. The cluster diagnostics will be produced to be a business model to promote, improve and solve problems.

Prof M.V. Krishna Kumar, Director of Cooperative Consulting and Professor of World Thunderbird University, a leading international business university, stated that after gathering information under cluster cooperation, the first item they will tackle is to find the strategy to increase the number of tourists.