It is almost impossible to publish a book in 2022 without mentioning the Covid pandemic that has struck the planet. The travel and tourism sector has been particularly hard hit with both visitor numbers and revenue being decimated as governments around the world have placed restrictions upon international travel.
The GMS has not been immune. All governments in the region have banned international tourists from travelling to their countries for large parts of the years 2020 and 2021. While certain countries and regions have focused on a more domestic-orientated tourism strategy, the revenue generated in this way has paled in comparison with overall pre-covid levels.
While crystal ball gazing has proved somewhat complex in the time of Covid with many a false dawn as successive Greek-lettered waves have descended upon us, there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel.
Countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia have trialled sandbox international visitor exemptions, the length of time needed to quarantine upon arrival is now being reduced, and in the cases of both Thailand and Cambodia double vaccinated visitors from many countries are allowed to travel freely within the country upon arrival.
Although it will take a considerable time for the world of travel to return to how it was before the pandemic, there are significant signs that international travelers will start returning to the GMS region in 2022. It is reasonable to assume that the year will be one of strong, sustained tourism growth.
This begs the question as to whether we really wish to return to the old normal. One of the most significant movements in the past two years has been the increasing demand for us to build back better. For the travel and tourism sector, ‘better’ means cleaner, greener and more sustainably. As you will read in Susanne Becken’s article there is a growing clamor for the new travel to be regenerative.
Covid is not the only crisis in town. In many respects it is dwarfed by the climate crisis that affects us all, but in particular the travel and tourism sector. Part of the logic for publishing Mekong Stories is to show that there is another path that the sector can take, avoiding the numbers-driven, high-impact growth we have seen pursued over the previous years.
The past two years have been pretty grim for many in the sector, but there really is renewed hope that the future may be a far healthier one. Within these pages you can read how we can all help to make this happen. This could be the future story of the Mekong.