It was a tremendous honor for me to be appointed in 2014 by the six governments of the Greater Mekong Subregion to head the development of sustainable and responsible tourism in the region. After serving as Strategic Advisor for the previous Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO), I saw the potential of this position and the opportunity to transform tourism in the fastest-growing region globally.
The preliminary purpose of tourism is to improve the lives of residents and support the sustainability of the environment, social structures, and cultures. There are usually many stakeholders from the public and private sector involved. Governments enable tourism by providing policies and infrastructures. The private sector invites visitors to experience a destination and available products and services. There are very few destinations that, by nature, have a structure that offers benefits to residents and visitors.
This is why the governments and private sector in the Mekong region have created the Mekong Tourism Framework to build balanced tourism through policies and strategies implemented in collaboration through various programs and initiatives.
Whereas the public sector can create overall long-term policies, businesses make a destination attractive, are integral parts of communities, and thus generate value for residents.
A private-sector industry-owned regional tourism board was needed to operate side-by-side with the public-sector government-owned regional tourism cooperation secretariat to engage businesses.
I realized this after two years when I was re-appointed by the governments; I started developing the concept of Destination Mekong. Some industry leaders might remember side-line discussions at the 2016 Mekong Tourism Forum in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, hosted by the Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia. So, it might not be any coincidence that the base of Destination Mekong is in Cambodia with the support of the Royal Government of Cambodia. The CEO of Destination Mekong is Catherine Germier-Hamel. She attended the Mekong Tourism Forum in Cambodia in 2016 and participated in some of these side-line discussions.
Destination Mekong, one-half of the Mekong Tourism Framework, represents the private sector and builds public-private-partnership (PPP) collaborations to execute initiatives and promote the region as a single tourism destination, build capacity, and increase inclusivity and sustainability.
At the 2017 Mekong Tourism Forum in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR, Destination Mekong launched its first initiative, Mekong Moments, the award-winning and innovative visual social commerce campaign based on comprehensive stakeholder collaboration from government, businesses, media, travelers, and residents. With the support of UNWTO Affiliate Member Chameleon Strategies, the initiative received investment via a crowd-funding initiative among private-sector travel companies, including Khiri Travel, Small Luxury Hotels of the World, IHG Hotels & Resorts, Odyssey Travel China, and SwissContact.
A few months later, the Experience Mekong Collection and the Mekong Mini Movie Festival campaign launched, both award-winning initiatives and recognized by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as global best practices for inclusive and sustainable tourism.
In partnership with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and with funding from the Australian government, the Mekong Innovative Startups in Tourism (MIST) program was launched in 2017 as one of the first startup programs of any tourism board in the world. In 2019, the MIST program changed its focus by adding social enterprises. To reflect the new status as a pioneering innovation program, MIST was renamed the Mekong Innovations in Sustainable Tourism.
Destination Mekong aims to champion the Mekong region as a leading sustainable tourism destination creating value for all. The organization is hosted at the Ministry of Tourism Cambodia to spearhead innovative and collaborative frameworks engaging public and private stakeholders in the branding and promotion of outstanding travel experiences and stories across the six Mekong countries. This is achieved by creating and facilitating value-added programs and solutions that highlight the diversity, uniqueness, and attractiveness of the Mekong region and build its capacity to achieve sustainable development and poverty reduction through tourism.
With the active support of Gerrit Kruger, Chief Marketing Officer of Destination Mekong, other initiatives followed from Mekong Heroes and Mekong Faces to showcase the stories of the people of the region to inspire residents and travelers at home and all over the world to visit destinations in the Mekong Region sustainably and responsibly.
The Mekong Stories publication is my final project as the founder of Destination Mekong to showcase the incredible stories and individuals that keep the heart of tourism beating in the Mekong Region.