Online training course discusses why and how tourism based on sustainability is not just right, but vital
The coronavirus crisis poses new and unprecedented challenges for every country, particularly in the tourism sector. The Lancang-Mekong (LM) region is no exception: with tourism a major contributor to their economies, economic losses across the five countries are staggering. According to the Asian Development Bank, Thailand is projected to lose US$5.6 billion or 1.11 per cent of its GDP and Vietnam will lose US$1.01 billion or 0.41 per cent of its GDP, with travel and tourism among the most affected sectors.[i]
Struggling with the crisis
Within two years of the pandemic, the LM governments have cautiously piloted creative measures and initiatives to sustain livelihoods and mitigate the effects of COVID-19. Take for example, Snow Tourism in China and Travel Bubble Initiatives in Thailand which are designed to restore tourism and the travel industry by introducing cross-disciplinary collaboration initiatives with the public health sector. In May and June, 2022, Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Thailand attempted to open up their countries for tourism again. At the regional level, the governments have convened such dialogues as the "Destination Mekong summit" and "Lancang-Mekong Tourist Cities Cooperation Alliance Conference" to discuss ways to restore tourism during and after the COVID-19 crisis.
Drawing on the lessons learned from the pandemic and looking ahead, the dialogue on tourism recovery is increasingly moving toward sustainability and resilience. This is precisely what the online regional training program on “Promoting Resilient and Sustainable Tourism for Post-COVID-19 Recovery in Lancang-Mekong Countries”, held from September 12-23, 2022, tried to achieve. With support of Yunnan Provincial Government of P.R. China and organized by Mekong Institute (MI), the goal was to strengthen the tourism sector and in so doing, make countries and their populations more resilient in the post COVID-19 future.
No going back to the ‘old normal’
“Following the unprecedented and devastating impacts of COVID-19, sustainability and resilience in tourism has drawn much attention from the LM countries to accelerate recovery in the region. By joining hands, tourism to LM countries will definitely play a greater role in sustainable development and prosperity,” said Mr. Chen Dehai, Secretary General of the ASEAN-China Center (ACC) in his opening remarks.
(In a pre-recorded message, Mr. Chen Dehai, Secretary General of the ASEAN-China Center (ACC) highlighted the significant role of tourism as one of the fastest growing industries around the world, notably in the LM region due to the high demand and market potential.)
The message from the speakers, all of whom gave insightful presentations, was clear: the countries should take the pandemic as a transformative opportunity to promote eco-tourism, nature conservation and decent work for local people. Experts from the field included Ms. Suvimol Thanasarakij from the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO), Dr. Li Jing from the China Tourism Research Institute, Mr. Phirapat Iamkam from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Mr. Peter Semone from the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), an environmental scientist Dr. Petch Manopawitr, and Mr. Li Yang from The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
The 10-day program (one-day webinar and nine-day training course) expanded on sustainable tourism concepts, collaborative governance, eco-cultural and community-based tourism, responsible tourism, tourism supply chain management among Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), and technological innovations adopted in smart tourism. In addition to the presentations by the experts, country-based and cross-country group discussions were used as a way to encourage participants from China, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand (i.e. government, private companies, tourism association, academic institution, social enterprise, and interested individuals) to share their knowledge and best practices and learn from one another.
Next up: Tourism upgrade
To ensure that the knowledge and experience shared does not end at the training course but translates into concrete actions, participants were asked to come up with an action plan and present their plan to the group. The idea is to implement this plan within a period of two months following the end of the training.
The training was well received, with the participants expressing their eagerness to take part in shaping the tourism sector back in their home countries to make it more sustainable and resilient.
Mr. Tin Myo Aung from Myanmar said that he learned a lot about the tourism industry. He expressed his appreciation to MI, the speakers and lecturers, and all participants from the LM countries. He hopes that MI will organize trainings on tourism again in the near future.
Mr. Ly Liet Thanh from Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, said that this was his first time participating in a training by MI. He particularly enjoyed learning about sustainable and resilient tourism concepts and added that he would share these with his students.
MI supports the efforts of the LM countries to tackle the pandemic in sustainable ways that offer both socioeconomic and environmental benefits. This online training is one of the many activities to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and collect lessons, positive stories and best practices as the region moves towards resilient and sustainable transformation.
Founded in 1996 and represented by Cambodia, P.R. China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, MI’s strategies are aligned with the core tenets of the GMS Cooperation Program Strategic Framework 2030, ASEAN Economic Community, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to accelerate sustainable socioeconomic development and poverty alleviation. MI works with partners (both public and private sector) to support this transition in many ways, for example by advising on capacity building measures, developing strategies and programs based on priorities and needs of the GMS countries, implementing projects and activities on the ground, and organizing structured learning visits, conducting studies, among others. For more information, visit: www.mekonginstitute.org