Mekong countries, including Cambodia, are not equipped for a major surge in international tourists as they struggle to recover from pandemic-fuelled job losses, a lack of skilled workers, and meet the rising demands of visitors, a regional tourism leader has warned.
Catherine Garmier-Hamel, CEO of Phnom Penh-headquartered Destination Mekong, added that increased levels of tourism recovery demand across the Mekong region are likely to cause operational inbound challenges this summer and beyond, especially with traditional markets such as China.
She made the comments ahead of her address at the upcoming ‘Arival Activate’ event in Bangkok from June 12 to 14. It will be attended by key tourism stakeholders from across Cambodia and the wider region.
Garmier-Hamel said in a press release that the main challenges the countries face are that the industry has not yet recovered from job losses and the collapse of businesses due to Covid-19. This has added burden to the ability to source and retain skilled workers.
In addition, she said tourism businesses are not yet fully prepared to deal with the anticipated influx of Chinese visitors, with many Chinese speaking employees now working in non-tourism industries - often in better paying jobs.
The final major challenge is that many international tourists now have higher expectations for their holidays due to them having waited so long. This is a particular issue for Chinese visitors due to the length of time strict Covid-19 restrictions remained in place.
“While the tourism industry has dreamed of seeing visitor numbers returning to 2019 levels, we are now nonetheless faced with the reality of welcoming all these visitors without the 2019 levels of infrastructure or staff in place,” Garmier-Hamel said.
“Visitor expectations are higher than ever, they’ve been waiting for years for these trips, but we think that the Mekong region is going to be in the ‘high-class problem’ situation of not being able to cope properly with such demand for the foreseeable future.
“How will visitors react to that? Could what they say to friends and on social media damage our reputation? If we don’t act now, we risk pushing travellers towards other destinations.”
Garmier-Hamel said to address these issues, destinations need to draw on their local resources and models instead of relying on international models that do not translate domestically.
She is also encouraging tourism-related businesses to build innovative experiences that add value, create brands that focus on sustainability and authenticity, and to find ways to engage more with travellers who truly care about the experiences they will have.
Destination Mekong launched in 2017 as a destination management organisation to promote innovative and inclusive public-private tourism collaborations in the Mekong region.