Mandalay – Alongside the appointment of a new executive director, the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) is to undergo an operational and administrative revamp with the help of a US$225,000 Technical Assistance (TA) grant from the Asian Development Bank.
Effective July 1, Jens Thraenhart, a German-Canadian national who specialises in digital media, will succeed Mason Florence as the new head of the Bangkok-based MTCO, the secretariat of the Tourism Working Group set up by the six countries that comprise the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS).
The MTCO coordinates the activities of the GMS Tourism Sector Strategy, organises the annual Mekong Tourism Forum (MTF) and implementation of the Explore Mekong single destination marketing program.
Its operational expenses, including the salary of its executive director, are financed by annual contributions of $15,000 from each GMS country (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and China’s southern Yunnan Province). In-kind office space is provided by Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
According to an ADB technical assistance paper, ADB has provided about $60 million in sovereign loans and grants for GMS tourism projects, primarily to improve access infrastructure, environmental services, and tourism management in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Along with improvements in airports and highways, increased airline access and relaxed visa facilitation has helped make the GMS one of the world’s fastest growing tourism sub-regions.
One of the primary achievements of the MTCO has been the exposure given to a number of secondary destinations in the GMS, such as Chiang Rai, Pakse, Siem Reap, Mandalay and Kunming, all of whom have hosted an MTF. It has done a formidable job given its limited resources. Better than other Asia-Pacific travel industry organisations, it has also displayed a high level of transparency, e.g., minutes and summaries of TWG meetings are posted on its website.
At the last Mekong Tourism Forum in Mandalay earlier in June, outgoing executive director, Mr Florence, was lauded for his five-year tenure. Myanmar’s Minister of Tourism praised him as a man who understands Asian culture. The ADB’s Social Sector Specialist in the Southeast Asia Department Steve Schipani said, “I have never seen him lose his temper.”
With a transition under way, GMS tourism officials feel that it is time to upgrade the operational effectiveness of the MTCO. Says the ADB’s technical assistance paper, “While the TWG has taken strong ownership of the regional tourism cooperation agenda, MTCO’s ability to perform its key Secretariat functions of development coordination, knowledge management, and marketing are constrained by weak operational planning, insufficient staffing and financial resources, and informal organizational status.
“As a consequence, there has been less than expected public and private support for TSS projects and knowledge management needed to foster tourism investment and growth in new destinations. Nascent efforts to establish a web-based knowledge center to track tourism industry performance and provide a repository for GMS tourism knowledge products have been limited by MTCO’s lack of technical expertise, the use of outdated information, and frequent unannounced shutdowns.”
It adds, “Lacking an up-to-date marketing strategy that is relevant to changing market preferences, the Explore Mekong program has also faltered because of low private sector participation and inadequate coordination among key stakeholders. Members of the TWG’s private sector advisory group cite the lack of a coherent regional marketing strategy and clear action plan as a primary impediment to raising more funds for joint marketing activities.”
According to the TA, a number of consultants will be engaged to develop an enhanced institutional framework for GMS tourism cooperation, along the following lines:
1.Prepare a desk study on regional tourism cooperation initiatives (e.g. ASEAN Tourism Association, Caribbean Tourism Organization, South Pacific Tourism Organization) to identify good practice for effective regional tourism marketing, provision of secretariat services, and regional tourism knowledge management.
2. Hold discussions with TWG members to explore the feasibility of increasing MTCO’s operating budget by establishing a new formula for determining the annual contribution of each GMS country, based on statistical information such as annual tourism receipts/arrivals, or other economic/population data.
3. Evaluate MTCO’s performance as TWG Secretariat.
4. Conduct interviews with MTCO staff, TWG members, the Pacific Asia Travel Association, development partners and other key public and private stakeholders involved in promoting regional tourism cooperation in the GMS.
5. Prepare a business-oriented MTCO operations plan for review and endorsement by the TWG.
6. Conduct an audit of GMS tourism knowledge products and services relevant to the seven priority programs of the GMS Tourism Sector Strategy.
7. Prepare a GMS tourism knowledge management framework and action plan for implementation by the TWG and MTCO.
8. In collaboration with an information technology specialist, transform MTCOs existing website into a web-based GMS tourism knowledge management platform.
9. Conduct a seminar on operations and maintenance of the web-based GMS tourism knowledge management platform with MTCO staff, GMS NTO counterparts, members of tourism industry associations, and other relevant stakeholders.
The operations plan will identify options to sustainably finance an expansion of MTCO operations and elevate its organizational status, such as creation of a public-private partnership with an existing industry association, fusion with an intergovernmental organization, or formal establishment of a GMS tourism board/association.
The updated Explore Mekong strategy will align with and complement the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan’s emphasis on developing subregional tour circuits and packages to boost repeat visits and tourist spending, the TA paper says. A survey of departing visitors at GMS gateway airports will be undertaken to update the state of knowledge about consumer perceptions of travel and tourism in the region.
The TA will be carried out over a period of 20 months. ADB will be the executing agency and closely coordinate with the TWG and MTCO on all aspects of implementation. To ensure an appropriate level of policy guidance, senior tourism officials from each GMS country and a high-ranking member of the TWG’s private sector advisory group will serve as the TA steering committee.
All consultants will report to and work under the supervision of ADB’s Southeast Asia Department and the TA steering committee.
Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor, Travel Impact Newswire, 24 Soi Chidlom, Bangkok, Thailand 10330. T: (+66-2) 2551480, 2537590. Fax: (+66-2) 2544316. Email: email@example.com