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Mekong Tourism Forum successfully showcases industry collaboration with new decentralized conference model

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Nearly 400 travel and tourism industry professionals exchanged lessons and experiences to promote competitive, inclusive, and sustainable tourism at the 2017 Mekong Tourism Forum (MTF 2017), held on 5–9 June in Luang Prabang, Laos. Hosted by the Luang Prabang Provincial Government and the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism in collaboration with the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, the theme ‘Prosper with Purpose’ reflected the event’s strong focus on sustainability and engagement.

The Forum demonstrated that smaller towns without large conference halls can host world-class events. Luang Prabang’s historic district was transformed into the venue, where delegates joined highly relevant thematic sessions moderated by subject matter experts, aligned to the United Nations International Year of Sustainability Tourism for Development.  Topics included child protection, heritage preservation, green urban development, women’s empowerment, human resource development, wildlife protection, community based tourism, youth tourism, sustainable investment, and emerging markets.

“This event was truly designed by the industry for the industry,’ said Jens Thraenhart, Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, one of the key event organizers.

Keynote speaker Ms. Anna Pollock, UK-based founder of Conscious.travel said ‘It was both an honor and delight to participate in the 2017 Mekong Tourism Forum, one of the best tourism conferences I have ever attended, setting a new standard in conference delivery. The ‘distributed, inclusive’ model maximized exposure to the talent in both the host and delegate communities, and was a brave, novel and constructive initiative, of benefit to many. Combined with the online platform developed for Mekong Tourism, the forum has set a new standard for destination management organizations to follow!’

Ms. Duanratchada Chimphalee, venue host and Director of Sales & Marketing at Mekong Cruises said: “Being able to discuss the issues of river-based tourism right on a river cruise boat on the Mekong River, made the debate not only so much more relevant and engaging, but also offered delegates to experience tourism products away from the traditional meeting room.  We were very pleased to be part of the MTF 2017 hosting community.  This new and innovative approach may open up future opportunities for collaboration among the travel industry in Luang Prabang.“

Mr. Peter Richards, session facilitator and International Trade Centre responsible tourism specialist remarked ‘While complex from a logistics standpoint, the organizer’s efforts paid off to create one of the most inclusive and experiential tourism conferences yet by making the destination the venue. This is a new benchmark for inclusive conferences. It was marvelous.’

Mr. Kevin Wallace, session facilitator and Managing Director of Dream Hotel Group commented: “The rolling venue format for this year’s Mekong Tourism Forum was innovative and excellent, drawing out high levels of interactive discussion and debate, locking right on to the hot issues.”

Professor Dr. Robyn Bushell, UNESCO consultant and session facilitator said: “The distributed approach no doubt added greatly to the planning and logistics but provided participants with many experiences, engaging with the town and its many assets. In the process providing many more businesses with profile. This works well in a small place like Luang Prabang that would normally not host a large meeting.  Such a delightful place, I never tire of visiting Luang Prabang. It brought so many of the issues and opportunities being discussed into sharp focus.  A great initiative, and a really productive forum.”

The Mekong Innovative Start-up Tourism Accelerator Program (MIST) was also featured at the Forum. MIST, a joint initiative between the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office and the Asian Development Bank financed Mekong Business Initiative with funding from the Government of Australia, is the Mekong region’s newest tourism startup accelerator, offering young entrepreneurs access to publicity, investment, and mentors. During the final investor showcase, twenty-four passionate, innovate tourism startups out of over 250 applications, pitched to investors and tourism industry leaders. Myanmar’s GoP, a travel search startup, won Best in Show.

Another special feature was the introduction of the Refill Not Landfill Campaign to Luang Prabang. Every delegate received a durable and refillable water bottle, with all Forum venues doubling as official refill stations. Supported by the German development agency GIZ and the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, the program is set to expand and continue.

Dr. Soudaphone Khomthavong, Luang Prabang’s Deputy Director of Information, Culture, and Tourism said ‘We avoided using about 5,000 plastic bottles during MTF 2017, which in itself is a great achievement and aligned to our theme ‘Prosper with Purpose’.

For more information about the Mekong Tourism Forum, please visit http://www.mekongtourism.org/events-2/mekong-tourism-forum/