Mekong Region Unprepared for Tourist Surge: Expert

Tourists visit the Angkor Archeological Park in Siem Reap province, Cambodia, April 16, 2023. Photo by Sao Khuth/Xinhua

PHNOM PENH – Countries in the Mekong region are likely to face challenges as tourist numbers recover in the next few months, an industry expert has warned.

Catherine Germier-Hamel, CEO of industry body Destination Mekong, said this would particularly be the case with traditional markets such as China.

Germier-Hamel set out the issues in the TTG Asia publication, saying the Mekong region is not yet able to cope with the likely surge in demand by tourists.

The industry had not recovered from job losses and businesses closures due to COVID -19. Tourism companies had problems attracting and keeping skilled staff.

Businesses were not ready to deal with Chinese visitors. Many local Chinese speakers had left for better-paid non-tourism jobs.

A further issue was the high expectations of visitors who had waited so long to travel.

Germier-Hamel told TTG Asia, “While the tourism industry has dreamed of seeing visitor numbers returning to 2019 levels, we are now nonetheless faced with the reality of welcoming all these visitors without the 2019 levels of infrastructure or staff in place.

“Mekong region is going to be in the ‘high-class problem’ situation of not being able to cope properly with such demand for the foreseeable future.”

To maintain the destinations’ reputations, it was crucial to act now or risk pushing travellers elsewhere.

In a separate development, he annual Mekong Tourism Forum returns as an in-person event in Preah Sihanouk province from April 25 to 27.

Hosted by the Ministry of Tourism, the Forum serves as a platform for regional tourism stakeholders to discuss critical issues and emerging trends, rethink the future of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) tourism, exchange insights and experiences, as well as reconnect face-to-face with each other.

It promises to engage in dialogue and discover opportunities to enhance the tourism sector’s resilience through sustainable food systems, fostering women empowerment, accelerating digitalization, and upskilling the tourism workforce.

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