More than 200 of the region’s most prominent tourism players gathered in Sihanoukville for Mekong Tourism Forum (MTF) 2023 to explore sustainable tourism recovery and resilience in a post-pandemic world.
Held under the theme of “Rethinking for Resilience and Digitalization”, MTF saw stakeholders from across Asia, including tourism leaders, experts, and businesses, descend on Cambodia for the three-day event at Independence Hotel in Sihanoukville.
A series of panel discussions and workshops shifted the focus on rethinking the future of Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) tourism while leveraging digitalization to ensure resilient and inclusive growth in the post-Covid-19 era.
Thong Khong, Minister of Tourism, said during the opening remarks, “The key stakeholders from the public and private sectors gathering together today will create unique opportunities to spearhead innovative and collaborative frameworks for tourism recovery towards resilience in this post Covid-19 era, and bring back what we have lost in tourism.”
The event, which was hosted by Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism in collaboration with the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) and with support from the Asian Development Bank, was also attended by the Ambassador of Laos to Cambodia, representatives from the Embassy of Japan and the Embassy of China, and senior officials from GMS countries.
“Tourism is one of the priority sectors contributing to socio-economic development through job creation, poverty reduction, investment, infrastructure development, as well as the protection and conservation of cultural heritage and natural resources,” added Kouch Chamroeun, Governor of Preah Sihanouk Province, at the event.
Among the raft of speakers was Peter Semone, Chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, who delivered a keynote speech on the pathway for building better and stronger tourism. He noted that rethinking tourism for resilience and sustainability in GMS should focus on managing and measuring tourism as an integrated ecosystem.
Other essential measures include optimizing efficiencies along the tourism value chain; treating tourism workers better; renewing the approach to entrepreneurship and innovation; facilitating the growth and prosperity of MSMEs; empowering communities in tourism; responding to the needs, wants, and responsibilities of visitors; and managing the intersection of tourism and technology.
Cambodian master chef, Luu Meng, was also on hand to lead a session focussing on the importance of food experiences as a driver for tourism growth in the region. The President of Cambodia Tourism Federation gave examples of holistic ways to build a sustainable food system by leveraging digital technologies.
In addition, the forum presented three panel discussions on the challenges, opportunities, and strategic actions related to building a smart tourism ecosystem, redefining gender roles to empower women, and enhancing the quality of the tourism workforce for a resilient future.
A sustainable tourism exhibition also threw the spotlight on responsible tourism businesses from across the region that generate positive impacts on the environment and local communities.
On April 27, delegates were given the chance to experience some of Cambodia’s natural gems during a trip to Koh Rong. The visit included taking part in a community-based ecotourism program involving mangrove forest planting and beach cleaning activities at Prek Koang Kang Ecotourism Community.
“As the co-organizer of MTF, I am thrilled to see a great turnout for this event. We are excited to see the profile of MTF delegates evolving and expanding, with more participation from international organizations, development partners, women-focused organizations, and, importantly, local communities, including the disabled, at the grassroots level. It is our role to foster inclusive growth in the tourism sector in the GMS region,” said Suvimol Thanasakakij, MTCO Executive Director.
MTF 2024 will be held in Lijiang, China in May 2024.