BANGKOK (eTN) – It might still be in more than six months’ time, but the hosting of the next Mekong Tourism Forum in Pakse (Champassak Province, Southern Laos) will be a great opportunity for the region to anchor itself as a tourism destination. Laos has seen a strong development over the last decade with foreign tourist arrivals growing from 700,000 in 2000 to 1.8 million in 2009. However, most visitors continue to concentrate in Vientiane and its surrounding area or in Luang Prabang, the old royal city now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 2009, Luang Prabang welcomed close to 250,000 foreign travelers, while Vientiane and its province approached in 2009 the 700,000 foreign visitors mark. According to the Lao National Tourism Administration, total foreign arrivals to the country should top 3.4 million by 2015, generating US$1billion in revenues.
Hosting the Mekong Tourism Forum on May 27 and 28, 2011 at Champassak Grand Hotel in Pakse is bringing new hope for Southern Laos. “I am glad about the choice of Pakse for the next MTF. I believe this is also the role of our organization to highlight new potential destinations and provide an opportunity for the trade to discover new areas,” said Mason Florence, Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, in charge of the event. According to data from 2008, a little more than 110,000 foreign travelers crossed into Champassak province through its two international borders.
For Mason Florence, Pakse’s choice is ideal to showcase how far the Greater Mekong sub-region has been able to integrate various countries into one single destination. Pakse – Laos’ third largest city – is located along the Mekong River, a few kilometers away from the border to Thailand, providing rapid air access via Ubon Ratchathani. The city is also a major stop on the way to Central Vietnam from Thailand. Buses can now cover the distance between Pakse and Danang in six to seven hours. The road connecting Saravan (180 km east of Pakse) to Vietnam is currently under construction and once completed, it will significantly cut travel times from Pakse to Central Vietnam. Champassak province is also adjacent to Cambodia, which created the “Mekong Discovery Trail.” The road from Siem Reap to the Lao border was recently enlarged and upgraded.
“We will certainly try to organize a circuit along the region to show how easy it has become to travel and, of course, to highlight all sightseeing in the region,” added Mason Florence. Among the most spectacular sites to visit near Pakse are Wat Phou, a Khmer temple listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, Southeast Asia’s largest waterfall at Khon Phapaeng, as well as the eco-tourism attraction of Siphandone (4,000 islands) on the Mekong River. “We are encouraging tour operators to venture outside well-established destinations to give a fair chance to other areas to gain from tourism development. It is a challenge, but our industry has to take the lead to offer alternative destinations to travelers into the Mekong sub-region,” added Mr. Florence.
Laos tourism authorities and the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office hope to attract some 300 participants, as well as between 50 and 100 booths in its GMS exhibition. During GMF 2010 in Siem Reap, many sustainable tour operators and hoteliers, as well as NGOs were present with some 210 delegates assisting to the debates.