GMS Countries Target 52M Tourist Arrivals in 2015

PAKSE, LAO PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC – Countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) are stepping up efforts to implement the GMS Tourism Sector Strategy's joint marketing and promotion program to help achieve the target of 52 million international tourist arrivals and $53 billion in subregional tourism revenue by 2015.

In 2010 members of the six-country GMS Tourism Working Group revived the Mekong Tourism Forum as one of the subregion’s flagship events to promote emerging Mekong destinations and serve as a platform to exchange knowledge on sustainable tourism. This year, the forum is being organized by the Lao National Tourism Administration (LNTA) and Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office in Pakse, Lao People‘s Democratic Republic on 27-28 May 2011. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other public and private sector organizations are supporting the event.

With the assistance of ADB, a strategy has been developed by Cambodia, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province of the People’s Republic of China, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam to promote quality subregional tourism that spreads the benefits more widely and contributes to poverty reduction and sustainable development while minimizing negative impacts.

"The GMS Tourism Sector Strategy includes 29 priority projects and seven strategic programs that focus on marketing and product development, human resource development, heritage conservation and social impact management, pro-poor tourism development, private sector participation, facilitation of the movement of tourists within the subregion, and tourism-related infrastructure development"; explained Craig Steffensen, Country Director of ADB's Thailand Resident Mission who opened the forum today together with the Chairman of the LNTA and Champasak Provincial Governor.

During a recent mid-term review of the strategy, GMS Tourism Ministers directed the TWG to focus on promoting pro-poor tourism development, strengthen tourism-related human resources, and jointly promote the development of thematic, multi-country tour routes linked to the iconic Mekong River.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2010 the Mekong region generated approximately $22.1 billion in economic output linked to travel, shopping, entertainment, transportation and other tourism-related services. However, a long running annual increase in international arrivals was briefly derailed in 2009 due to the global economic downturn. Growth rebounded strongly in 2010 when the GMS surpassed the historic milestone of 30 million international arrivals for that year.

"This impressive growth and resilience is mainly due to the subregion’s highly competitive cost structure, rapidly improving subregional connectivity, liberalization of immigration policies, and increasing affluence among the GMS population," Mr. Steffensen added.

ADB, together with GMS governments and their development partners, are supporting the subregional tourism cooperation program by investing in public infrastructure such as roads, sanitation, water and power supply along with complimentary investments in technical and vocational education, biodiversity conservation, and promotion of pro-poor tourism policies. Between 2003 and 2011, ADB has provided $58.7 million in loan and grant assistance to the GMS tourism industry.

ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members - 48 from the region. In 2010, ADB approvals, including, cofinancing, totaled $17.51 billion. In addition, ADB’s ongoing Trade Finance Program supported $2.8 billion in trade.