47th Meeting of the Greater Mekong Subregion Tourism Working Group

The Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism, in cooperation with the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO), will hold the 47th Greater Mekong Subregion Tourism Working Group (GMS TWG-47) and MTCO Board Meetings on 27 May 2021. The Meetings will gather together members of the GMS Tourism Working Group consisting of National Tourism Organizations of Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam. The MTCO and other Development Partners, including the Asian Development Bank, will also attend. The Meetings will be conducted via video conference call due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The 47th GMS Tourism Working Group will discuss the respective member countries' COVID-19 situation, tourism reopening plans, as well as the Mekong Tourism Communications Recovery Plan. The Working Group will also consider reports on GMS Tourism Infrastructure for Inclusive Growth Project, MTCO operations and ADB updates.

An MTCO Board Meeting (closed door) will follow the Tourism Working Group meeting.

The Government of Viet Nam, with assistance from the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO), held the 47th Meeting of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Tourism Working Group (TWG-47) on 27 May 2021 via video conferencing. The meeting (i) provided updates on country situations on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in GMS member countries, and planned tourism recovery initiatives and strategies, (ii) presented the Mekong Tourism Communications Recovery Plan, and (iii) reviewed ADB support for the tourism sector in the Mekong subregion. Senior and mid-level officials representing the National Tourism Organizations (NTOs) of the six GMS countries— Cambodia, People’s Republic of China (PRC), Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam—MTCO, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) attended the meeting.

In his welcome remarks, Dr. Ha Van Sieu, Vice Chair of VNAT, recognized the importance of Mekong countries’ efforts to cooperate on COVID-19 pandemic prevention and recovery, especially in the tourism industry. He noted that while international travel restrictions continue to be imposed, the recent launch of COVID-19 vaccine programs has brightened the situation. On his behalf, Mr. Tran Phu Cuong, Director General of VNAT, was appointed Chair of the meeting.

Mr. Alfredo Perdiguero, head of the ADB delegation, noted the current tourism downturn is significantly undermining GMS prosperity. He recognized successful GMS efforts to manage the pandemic, including vaccination programs that will help re-start international travel. He highlighted that ADB stands with the GMS and is helping the subregion beat COVID-19 through its COVID-19 Pandemic Response Option. To date, this has extended $2 billion in assistance to GMS countries. He added that the proposed GMS Strategy 2030 and COVID-19 Recovery Plan strongly promote regional cooperation to rebuild tourism safely and sustainably.

Mr. Jens Thraenhart, Executive Director of the MTCO, reiterated the aim for a balanced tourism recovery and holistic destination management and putting stakeholders’ engagement at its core. He underscored that the MTCO has successfully initiated programs to showcase small businesses and develop innovative, collaborative social media campaigns. He cited that GMS tourism branding of “Unlimited Experiences” is consistent with what people will be looking for when travel resume and public-private collaboration will be key in protecting these local and authentic experiences.

Country Updates on the COVID-19 Situation and Tourism Reopening Plans

GMS member countries shared the status of tourism in their respective countries and their planned tourism recovery initiatives and strategies. Initiatives mentioned by NTO representatives included:

  • Cambodia reported that in response to the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government launched eight rounds of additional support measures from April to June 2021 which included exemption of all tourism license renewal fees nationwide until the end of 2021. Other initiatives include (i) safety and hygiene protocols applied in tourism businesses such restaurants, food courts, hotels, tourist transport, community-based tourism, sports tourism, etc.; (ii) an upskilling and reskilling program by the Ministry of Tourism through e-learning platforms to retain talent and skills in tourism sector; (iii) developing key strategic documents like Roadmap for Tourism Recovery Plan, Tourism Development Strategic Plan (2021-2035); (iv) focus on Eco-tourism products; and (v) COVID-19 vaccination program which started on 10 Feb 2021 and as of 21 May has administered first dose to 2,306,456 people. The Government is considering accepting international tourists who have been vaccinated to Siem Reap-Angkor and its surrounding destinations in the fourth quarter of 2021.
  • PRC informed that in terms of their COVID-19 pandemic prevention and control program, they have issued the 8th Edition of Protocol on Prevention and Control of Novel Corona Virus Pneumonia on 14 May 2021 and continue to administer COVID-19 vaccines to the mainland PRC population. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China has been supporting the holding of international fairs and exhibits such as the China International Travel Mart, Beijing International Health Tourism Expo, and China ASEAN Expo Tourism Exhibition. Events are also being planned for: (i) Coastal and Marine Tourism; (ii) Mountain Tourism; (iii) Smart Tourism; (iv) Lancang-Mekong Tourism Cities Cooperation Alliance; and (v) Culture and Tourism weeks.
  • Lao PDR reported that short-term and long-term recovery strategies and themes focus on (i) economic relief to revive tourism; (ii) building confidence in travel and strengthen the sector; and (iii) upgrade, expand and diversify.
  • Myanmar informed the meeting that current initiatives to revitalize tourism in Myanmar include the (i) development of Tourism National Guidelines for COVID-19 Safe Services through the adoption of the “Enchanting Myanmar Health & Safety Protocol (HSP)” to help restore tourists trust and confidence; and (ii) the Myanmar Tourism Strategic Recovery Roadmap (MTSRR) 2021-2025 which includes a 1-year detailed action plan, 18 strategies and 93 specific actions prioritized according to immediate, medium or long term. Some of the specific actions under MTSRR that were undertaken include: (i) formation of committees for different types of tourism to guide the development of alternative tourism products both for international and domestic tourists; (ii) formation of Destination Management Organizations in the Regions and States with representatives of public, private and local communities; and (iii) Implementation of ASEAN Framework to Facilitate Travel Bubble Schemes.
  • Thailand updated that the country’s COVID-19 recovery initiatives and measures include (i) medical and public health measures, establishing 150 field hospitals and engaging in active case finding to prevent spread of COVID-19, and COVID-19 vaccination; (ii) measures to boost tourism, such as the Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration; and (iii) measures to boost the economy, such as the We Travel Together travel subsidy, Tour Tiew Thai, Khon La Khrueng- government pays half of purchase, and Kao Chana- co-payment scheme with government. Thailand also shared their plan to reopen the country to international tourists which will be in four phases, starting with accepting vaccinated tourists in designated areas.  
  • Viet Nam informed that it continued to implement dual policy priorities of preventing and combating the COVID-19 epidemic while maintaining socio-economic activities. Recent specific actions include extending the quarantine period from 14 days to 21 days and social distancing at two levels. Because of the new wave of COVID-19 infections, since 22 March 2020, foreigners’ entry has been suspended but Viet Nam will consider re-opening to those already vaccinated by third quarter of 2021.  The Government support programs (fiscal and monetary incentives and policies) as well as public-private marketing efforts continued to be implemented.

Mekong Tourism Communications Recovery Plan

Mr. Thraenhart acknowledged ADB’s support in preparing the Mekong Tourism Communications Recovery Plan and the countries’ participation in the collaborative workshops. The Plan aims to guide dissemination of accurate and engaging information to support a safe and sustainable GMS tourism recovery. Mr. Thraenhart emphasized that it is an overarching framework that aims to integrate domestic efforts and make tourism collaboration in the Mekong region successful. 

He presented key findings from the situational analysis and stakeholder workshops, as well as recovery communication principles, key messages, source markets and messaging, reopening priorities, phases, key implementation entities and roles, and monitoring.

Mr. Steven Schipani, Unit Head, Project Administration, ADB Viet Nam Resident Mission, added that the Plan drew from national recovery plans and can serve as an example of how to amplify a destination-specific or a country recovery communications plan. 

MTCO Key Achievements and Activities

Mr. Thraenhart delivered a presentation of the GMS scorecard showing data for both 2019 and 2020 tourism performance indicators. GMS international tourist arrival was at 13. 5 million in 2020 and 73.6 million in 2019 while tourist receipts were at $27.7 million in 2020 and $73.6 billion in 2019. He also delivered updates on (i) the MTCO Coronavirus Resource Update Program, which has published 12 issues so far, (ii) digital performance update of the website and the Facebook page, (iii) establishment of the Destination Mekong Public-Private Framework.

This public-private collaboration and engagement through the Destination Mekong Public-Private Framework contributed to the success of marketing initiatives of the MTCO and the TWG, noted Mr. Thraenhart. He reiterated that the pandemic heightened the importance and effectiveness of these public-private collaboration towards tourism recovery and beyond. He also updated that Cambodia, through its Ministry of Tourism, officially offered to host the offices of the Destination Mekong to support a regional tourism public-private partnership framework. Mr. Thraenhart noted that Destination Mekong is a private sector led initiative and hoped that all GMS countries can support Cambodia in hosting this important initiative.                                       

For the full meeting report, visit the Mekong Tourism website.