HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Mekong tourism: Learning across borders

Phuket Airport still quiet, nearly two months after tsunamis

Phuket turns away foreign volunteers

Air France launches web competition

Mekong tourism: Learning across borders

Reinhard Hohler

The Social Research Institute, Chiang Mai University conducted a workshop on “Mekong Tourism” on February 24-25, 2005. The two-day workshop, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, Southeast Asia Regional Office, was organized into practitioners and academic parts. There were some 70 participants from the countries of the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) to assess the tourism experience of Thailand and use it as a case study in their respective countries, but Myanmar was conspicuously not represented at all.

Professor Dr. Mingsarn Kaosa-ard, Director of the Social Research Institute.

The most important goal of the workshop was to develop a collaborative network of research and discuss policies between the National Tourism Organizations (NTOs) and academics in the region. Counting on the arrival of 15 million visitors to the six countries of the GMS, namely Yunnan/China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, Walailak Noypayak, Director of Marketing Intelligence Division, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) noted that Chiang Mai had the share of nearly 1.5 million in 2003. Thus, Chiang Mai is under scrutiny to develop as the northern aviation hub.

After a session about the relationship of tourism with e-commerce and human resources development, the participants were transferred to the recently opened Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Resort, where its General Manager, Patrick-Denis Finet, shared his vision how to set up and manage a “six star” hotel. Asked about the use of seemingly religious architecture in a worldly palace-like property, he advised that the controversy was over and the hotel is welcoming guests to its four different restaurants and has 144 rooms, having a range from USD 600-6000. After a sumptuous dinner, TAT advisor Pradech Payakvichien gave a speech on Thailand’s tourism development to promote employment opportunities, income redistribution and poverty alleviation.

In the academic part of the workshop, Professor Dr. Mingsarn Kaosa-ard, Director of the Social Research Institute, who did her thesis at the Australian National University, lectured on the negative as well as positive impact of tourism. “As tourism thrives on cultural capital and misuse should be avoided, tourism cannot be left to the market alone,” she explained. In the session about community-based tourism, Senior Researcher M.R. Dr. Akin Rabhibhadana presented his study about the Chiang Mai communities of Klong Mae Kha and Ban Mae Kampong. Very enlightening was the talk by Dr. Prasit Leepreecha, a native Hmong, about the politics of ethnic tourism in Northern Thailand.

While case studies from the Mosuo people in Yunnan/China, Nam Ha National Protected Area in Luang Nam Tha/Laos and Kirirom National Park in Kampong Speu/Cambodia provided evidence and support to appropriate government policies, the overall clear-cut message of the workshop was evident. Learn the lessons from the past to better look at the future. Without doubt, such a shining example of networking will be of great benefit to all.

In another development, the exhibition “Mysterious Mekong” displayed at the Chiang Mai L’Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient in January 2005 had attracted wide more than 600 visitors and will be moved to Siem Reap in Cambodia to be shown at the Sofitel Royal Angkor Hotel on March 11-31. Also, there will be the Mekong Tourism Forum in Siem Reap on March 25 -27, 2005 at the Angkor Century Hotel where the discussion about the development of the Mekong region continues.

For further information, please contact Reinhard Hohler, GMS Media travel consultant by email [email protected]

Phuket Airport still quiet, nearly two months after tsunamis

Last year, it was a bustling little international airport on a Thai island paradise, dubbed the ‘Pearl of the Andaman’. Now, it is just a shadow of what it once was, with visitor arrivals down by more than 64 percent.

With Thailand’s southern Andaman provinces of Phuket, Krabi and Phang-nga all badly damaged by the massive waves which struck across Asia on December 26, the Phuket Airport is a victim of sharply reduced tourist numbers.

According to Sqd. Ldr. Pornchai Ua-aree, the airport’s director, January saw a 26.74 percent reduction in the number of flights arriving in Phuket, with only 2,151 flights arriving compared to 2,936 in January 2004. Of these, 777 were international flights and the remainder domestic, with international flights down 54.59 percent on the previous year’s figures.

Although the drop in domestic flights was less severe, many of the flight arrivals were accounted for by the arrival of aid for the tsunami victims. Passenger arrivals, meanwhile, slumped by 64.4 percent in January, with 181, 511 arrivals, compared to 509,841 in January last year.

International arrivals recorded an 88.8 percent drop, from 241,513 passengers to a mere 27,026, while domestic arrivals were down by 42.43 percent.

Sqd. Ldr. Pornchai admitted that some flights to Phuket had still not been resumed, with around 44 percent of regular flights cancelled. Nonetheless, he noted that some airlines were now beginning to return to the province, including Orient Thai flying from Hong Kong.

But he conceded that with the badly damaged Phang-nga resort of Khao Lak, one of the major destinations previously chosen by a large proportion of passengers using the airport, it would be a long time before passenger numbers were restored to their pre-tsunami levels. (TNA)

Phuket turns away foreign volunteers

TTG Asia

A new niche for inbound travel to Thailand is in danger of being struck down even before it has taken root in the marketplace.

The niche, called “Volunteer Tourism”, comprises individuals who wish to visit a foreign country and use their holidays to help others or to advance a good cause such as education or the environment on a voluntary basis.

The niche was just beginning to gain ground in Thailand when the head of the Phuket Provincial Employment Service Office, Sayan Chuaiyjan, told reporters that foreign volunteers found without work permits would be liable for a penalty of three years in jail and/or a 30,000 baht (US$750) fine.

North by North-east Tours general manager, Nick Ascot, greeted the announcement with dismay. “We are inundated with requests to volunteer for tsunami cleanup but this volunteer market will now go to Sri Lanka or another place that welcomes them fully,” he said.

Work permit application can be a complicated process, has to be done in person with supporting documentation from an approved organization, and is often turned down on spurious grounds.

A spokesperson for the Tourism Authority of Thailand international niche markets section said the situation was lamentable, but “volun-tourism” is not among the niche markets being pursued this year.

Air France launches web competition

TTG Asia

Air France launched the “Win the Skies” competition on its website www.airfr, giving out air tickets, hotel packages and free Air France mileages.

Until March 14, 2005, Air France invites people to visit its website and try their luck by playing the game for a chance to win instant air tickets to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi (for Thai residents).

On a weekly basis, a random prize draw of all entrants worldwide will be carried out to designate a winner of one of three luxury stays with Le Meridien hotels, in either Tahiti, Rio or Mauritius. All subscribers will be automatically entered into a final prize draw on March 15, to find a super winner to get 80,000 miles Air France Frequency Plus. Winners will be notified of their prize by email. The “Win the Skies” competition is open to any person residing in 35 countries worldwide participating in the program. Participation is free, there are no obligations and no purchase is necessary. The complete rules are available on www until March 14, 2005.