Reinhard Hohler, Chiang Mai (18.06.2012)
In co-operation with the Chiang Rai Provincial Administration and the Bangkok-based Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO), Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports was successfully hosting this year’s Mekong Tourism Forum (MTF), which since 1996 had always been a great opportunity for the countries of the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), namely Cambodia, China (especially Yunnan and Guangxi), Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam, to discuss the newest tourism developments in the region.
Having been invited as a media delegate to the MTF 2012 in Chiang Rai on June 12-15, I took the Green Bus for 185baht from the newly built Chiang Mai Bus Station at 11.00 to arrive in Chiang Rai at 14.30 in the afternoon of June 12. I headed straight out to the elegant Dusit Island Resort, which was the official venue of the event being primarily a resort hotel but also fully equipped to have business meetings, seminars and a variety of social functions. Other hotels for the accommodation of some 150 delegates were The Legend Chiang Rai and Le Meridien Chiang Rai, both beautifully located along the Mekok River, which has its origin in Myanmar’s Shan State flowing down to the mighty Mekong River further east.
Chiang Rai was chosen as the host city of MTF 2012 because of its magnificent and outstanding tourism resources and services. Moreover, Chiang Rai is now seen as an important gateway to Myanmar and Lao PDR as well as other GMS countries. Interesting to note is that the only delegation on a minister level was sent from Myanmar, from where H.E. U Htay Aung, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, came via the border town of Tachileik, which is some 60km away in the north of Chiang Rai.
Under the theme “20/20 Vision: Building on Two Decades of GMS Co-operation” it was up to the Governor of Chiang Rai, Mr. Thanin Supasaen, to give the welcome speech, but the highlight of the first day of the conference was without doubt the keynote presentation of M.R. Disnadda Diskul, Chairman of the well-known Doi Tung Development Project, who talked about Thailand’s Royal Projects and sustainable tourism development. He mentioned the vicious cycle of greed, growth and global imbalance and postulated that the only way out is to introduce sustainability and responsible tourism to eradicate poverty. Especially through the Doi Tung Development Project the elimination of opium cultivation has succeeded, while central to the philosophy of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation is the integration of local knowledge and wisdom. Closing the gap between the rich and the poor is what counts and nothing else.
Other presentations on the exploitation of children in the GMS and on community-based tourism followed in the afternoon. Also, there was a 20 year retrospective of tourism development in the GMS and breakout sessions into teams to discuss and analyze the strength and challenges of the GMS hindsight.
On the second day of the conference there were heard some next generation voices of the future and a valuable presentation on the Internet in the Mekong region by Mr. Ariya Banomyong, Country Business Manager, Google Thailand. He verified that in our digital world everything can be measured and controlled accordingly.
The highlight of the morning was the highly expected presentation on new directions of Myanmar tourism by H.E. Htay Aung and his team. In 2011, Myanmar received some 816,000 tourist arrivals counted at Yangon and Mandalay International Airports, and for the first part of 2012 there already is a growth of 36% in arrival numbers. Through “quality” tourism Myanmar will try to minimize some negative side effects of tourism and become a better place to live in. Interesting to note is that an ambitious tourism master plan will be financed with the support of the Norwegian Government and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to be ready in December 2012.
There followed an interesting presentation on “Green Growth” into the year 2050, before breakout sessions in teams tried to give a foresight into mapping the future of Mekong Tourism. Finally, the conference closed with the announcement that the next MTF will be organized either in China’s Yunnan or Guangxi in June 2013.
On the social side, there were altogether three dinner receptions organized by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of Thailand at the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park (“MTF 2012 Welcome Dinner”), Tourism Authority of Thailand at Dusit Island Resort (“Amazing Thailand Night”) and last not least Chiang Rai Provincial Administration at Le Meridien Resort (“MTF 2012 Farewell Dinner”), where networking with long-term friends and colleagues was possible.
On June 15, MTF 2012 delegates and participants had the opportunity to join one of the four offered post-tours to experience Chiang Rai Province. I opted for the excursion to the notorious “Golden Triangle” to visit the National Museum in the old town of Chiang Saen as well as the impressive Hall of Opium, which also is a project of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation. It is only here that the whole history of opium is professionally explained and visitors can learn about the effects of drugs on body and mind, strategies to control drug abuse, international co-operation and the efforts in dealing with drug addiction.
Needless to say that when I came back to Chiang Mai late in the evening I was very happy and pleased to have attended MTF 2012 and got new ideas and inspirations to follow up in the near future.