Mekong Virtual Summit must tackle realities

BANGKOK, 6 August  2020: 
Travel may have come to a standstill in Mekong Region countries, but it
won’t stop tourism stakeholders engaging in ‘make-believe’ during a half-day
virtual summit hosted by the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office 25 August.

The Virtual Destination Mekong Summit will
be organised by public-private partnership Destination Mekong, with the
sponsorship of UNWTO affiliate member Chameleon Strategies, under the theme of
“Balanced Tourism Recovery for a Better Future”. 

Registration is free. For the programme, and registration visit

Pursuing the lofty notion that the travel
industry can manage a post-Covid-19 balanced recovery and create a better
future is a big ask. In reality, tourism stakeholders are fighting for
survival. Any kind of recovery would be welcomed, and as for a better future,
most tour operators are more concerned that as long as governments keep borders
shut to safeguard the health of the populace, they have no future.

It remains to be seen if the virtual summit
can reach conclusions and present recommendations that might steer the
governments of the six Mekong Region countries to establish a consensus on health
policy and travel directives that will also throw a lifeline to the tourism and
hospitality industries that are drowning fast in the global Covid-19 storm.

It will need to address the fact that the
region’s tour operators have not served any genuine tourists since mid-March.
Their rice bowl has shattered, and experts predict that within the next three
to four months at least 50% of the Mekong Region’s travel firms will close
shop. Big names will go.

As long as the 14-day quarantine rule
applies in the Mekong Region tourism is dead in the water.

The introduction of expensive insurance
cover and even cash deposits (Cambodia) is another deterrent at the border

Finally, travel bubbles are a mythical
story for the travel media to spin and provide false hope to small enterprises
stripped of their cash flow.

Governments in the Mekong Region need to do
more to financially support tour companies to reinvent themselves and possibly
find ways to tap domestic markets no matter how small while they navigate a
path to survival.

There is a need for more clarity, and travel rules should be streamlined and made less cumbersome. The entry procedures need to be better managed and identical in all Southeast Asian nations to build travel confidence. When Mekong Region countries erect obstacle courses to prevent their own citizens from returning home, then we can only assume it is even more difficult for foreigners to contemplate travel to the Mekong Region. That situation could continue until late 2021.

The first case of Covid-19 outside of China
occurred in Thailand, 13 January 2020. Seven months later, Covid-19 fatigue is
setting in across the region. The end game is not yet in sight. We fear second
and third waves and entire health systems in all Mekong Region countries are
stressed to breaking point.

 Medical experts warn Covid-19 is rumbling
around our region. ‘Balance’ and ‘better’ are not the watchwords. For the
travel and hospitality firms at ground zero how to survive and avert disaster
are top of mind.

IATA predicts airlines will not see a
substantial recovery until 2024. By then, the entire travel landscape will have
changed dramatically. Summit attendees should grapple with the real issues the
ones that will mend the rice bowl fast for thousands of SMEs suffering the
financial fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Destination Mekong Summit will be emceed by well-known academic JutamasWisangsing of Perfect Link Consulting, and Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office executive director, Jens Thraenhart.

It will have two short takeaway sessions,
led by Horwath HTL Global Tourism Practice Leader SinišaTopalović, calling in
from Croatia.

The opening keynote will be given by the author of the upcoming book “Travel & Covid-19”, Professor Dr Simon Hudson of South Carolina University in the USA, who will look at case studies from all over the world.

Reflections from past crisis’ and ideas will be discussed by WeearasakKowsurat, a Thai senator and former minister of tourism and Sports of Thailand and  Htay Aung, former minister of hotels and tourism.

Steven Schipani from the Southeast Asia
Department of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) will lead a session with the
vice-chairman of the Vietnam Administration of Tourism (VNAT),  Ha Van Sieu, and the director-general of the
Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia, Rathasak Thong, about economic development
measures as well as tourism recovery in the region.

Finally, the World Travel and Tourism Council CEO, Gloria Guevara, former UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, former minister of tourism and Sports of Thailand, KobkarnWattanavrangkul, and the Pacific Asia Travel Association CEO  Mario Hardy will present recommendations and opinions.

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