Regional | Regional Cooperation and Integration
Start-Ups Deliver Inclusive Tourism in the Mekong Region
The Mekong region is introducing tourists to a wider array of attractions after several tourism start-ups are placed under an innovation accelerator program, supported by the Government of Australia. As the success of these start-ups gains and sustains momentum, the Mekong region is on its way to having a more inclusive and sustainable tourism industry.
- Financing Partner
- Government of Australia $150,000
The Greater Mekong Subregion is where Asia’s ancient and diverse cultural heritage manifests into an attractive destination. The countries in the subregion provide an alluring combination of rich culture, striking rural landscapes, and vibrant urban centers.
Within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members is a smaller group called the ASEAN-4, made up of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Viet Nam. These are the ASEAN members whose natural and cultural tourism assets are bound by the Mekong River. Collectively, the ASEAN-4 received 29.3 million tourists in 2018. For the whole of the ASEAN region, the number of tourist arrivals is expected to rise to 155.4 million in 2022.
These arrivals, however, mainly benefit fewer than 10 getaway destinations. These destinations include heritage sites, the Mekong River, city capitals, beach resorts, and sites promoting their cultural identities. The promotion of secondary destinations is constrained by inadequate transport infrastructure, a weak business-enabling environment, slow deployment of digital marketing tools, and few market linkages between tourism and other sectors.
Seeing huge potential for inclusive and sustainable tourism growth in diversifying tourism destinations, ADB, together with the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Tourism Working Group (TWG) and the Government of Australia, created the Mekong Innovative Start-ups in Tourism (MIST) accelerator program, under the Mekong Business Initiative in 2017. The pilot MIST in 2017 successfully incubated ASEAN-4 tourism start-ups and facilitated market access and technology transfer for another 12 mature tourism technology. Building on this success, ADB and the Government of Australia got together and formulated the regional Mekong Tourism Innovation Project to continue supporting MIST in 2018.
The start-up track teaches business fundamentals to early-stage travel and hospitality startups, while connecting them with industry and investors. The market access track helps clear market entry obstacles, form local partnerships, and secure financing for proof-of-concept pilots.
These enterprises must be owned or co-founded by a citizen from the ASEAN-4, have an innovative solution for travel and hospitality, is at the stage of having a product at “minimum viable product” development, and is scalable based on a submitted business plan. One hundred seven firms applied for the 2018 MIST accelerator program.
The six-day MIST bootcamp was held in Ho Chi Minh, Viet Nam in May 2018, where 19 qualified start-ups went through 30 hours of mentorship and learning from 12 international tourism coaches. The bootcamp is also where the 19 start-ups competed to join coveted pitching sessions to potential investors at the 2018 MIST Forum. Nine new tourism enterprises graduated from the MIST accelerator program, five on start-up track, and four on the market access track.
After the MIST boot camp, reports on market expansion from the participants showed that there had been an increase in market activity among the participating enterprises. Specifically, 23 financing and business affiliation agreements were signed, and an estimated $1.65 million potential investment was raised.
Social media played a big role in spreading the word about the new tourism techenterprises. The project received extensive positive media exposure through the 813 media stories. It also gained 3.1 million social media shares, exceeding its target of 1 million. Both were well above the project’s targets.
By diversifying consumer services and markets, the MIST project also helped these destinations become resilient in the face of external shocks like natural disasters or pandemics. A vibrant tourism industry is an essential contributor to global trade and economic growth. An ADB report says that it is “perhaps the world’s largest voluntary transfer of resources from rich people to poor people.”