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29 Mar, 2004

ADB Pushes Overhaul of GMS Tourism Plans & Projects

CHIANG MAI – The Asian Development Bank is pushing for an overhaul of the tourism development strategy of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) to improve its marketing, facilitation and administration.

Ten years after the formation of the GMS Tourism Working Group, the bank has allocated US$ 800,000 for a new study to draft out strategies to prepare the region to receive 29.2 million visitors by 2010 and about 61.3 million by 2020.

This is up from the 16.5 million arrivals in 2002 and 9.6 million arrivals in 1995.

The proposed overhaul was the primary item on the agenda of the GMS Tourism Working Group meeting held here last week. The ADB, along with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific and the Pacific Asia Travel Association, have played a major role in funding and organising many of the supporting tourism development programmes that have made the Mekong region one of the fastest growing visitor arrivals in the last 10 years.

Tourism Authority of Thailand deputy governor for international marketing Mrs Phornsiri Manoharn noted that the GMS tourism meeting was being held at an opportune time — April 8, 2004 will mark 10 years since the opening of the Australian-funded Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge across the Mekong river.

Although the Mekong has developed a powerful branding image since the first Mekong Tourism Forum was held in Pattaya in 1996, the ADB feels there is need to fine tune its extensive financial backing of the region’s joint tourism initiatives.

At a policy level, the ADB describes tourism as one of “key drivers” of GMS economic development and one of the “key instruments” of poverty alleviation. It has positioned tourism among its 11 “flagship programmes” for the region.

Based on figures provided by the World Tourism Organization, the ADB projects that 61.3 million arrivals in 2020 could generate an additional US$ 7.56 billion expenditure, 290,000 more hotel rooms and related services and facilities with investment requirements of about US$ 14.5 billion, and about 194,000 new jobs directly in the hotel sector alone.

The new study being proposed by the ADB will include a marketing and promotion plan, infrastructure requirements, human resources including the preparation of a programme of common GMS training activities, sustainable management of cultural and natural heritage, and ways to increase private sector participation and investment in tourism.

The ADB wants the study to identify the constraints, opportunities and best practices, and recommend mechanisms and pilot projects to grow the distribution of tourism benefits and reduce poverty. It envisages the formation a GMS network of tourism marketing and promotion boards.

The study will be conducted between September 2004 to April 2005, involving consultations with government departments, the private sector, bilateral and international donors, local communities, NGOs and universities.

After bouncing off the conclusions at national and regional workshops, the ADB hopes to have the study’s conclusions and recommendations approved by the GMS heads of state at their 2nd summit tentatively set for July 2005.

According to ADB economist Alfredo Perdiguero, the easing of restrictions on cross-border travel within GMS is a major priority. The study will seek to draft a long-term plan to facilitate the movement of visitors to and within the GMS.

He said that while visa liberalisation and facilitation measures taken so far have been a significant outcome of subregional cooperation, “it is however necessary to develop a comprehensive road map to facilitate the movement of tourists to and within the subregion” in the future.

The roadmap would cover: (i) cross border-facilitation and improved processing procedures at border check points, (ii) development of overland and river based tours and tour circuits, (iii) provision of improved transportation services information, and (iv) liberalising air transportation policies.

A preliminary study by the ADB shows that the subregion has 100 external border points, 67 land border points used mainly by regional residents, 19 international airports used mainly by third country nationals and 14 seaports used mainly by cruise sips and some regional residents.

The study also found that cost of visas and entry permits in the GMS countries ranges from US$ 8 to US$ 34, with visas being given for durations of 15 to 90 days. A citizen of a country which requires visas to the GMS countries who visits all of them in one trip would pay a total of US$ 119 for visas alone.

The study estimated that Vietnam chalked up US$ 65.7 million in visa revenues in 2002, China (Yunnan Province) US$ 22.7 million, Lao PDR US$ 22.1 million, Cambodia US$ 15.7 million, Thailand US$ 7 million and Myanmar US$ 3.9 million.

For Laos, visa revenues are estimated to have comprised 9.22 % of total government revenue in 2002, and Cambodia 3.13 %. For the other GMS countries, the figure was less than 1 %.

The ADB is also indicating that some of the tourism-related development trajectories of the past may not have produced the desired results and may need to be reviewed.

“In the past, certain (tourism-related) policies and projects have set tourism off on an anti-poor course through uneven distribution of benefits, poor planning, environmental destruction, unguided development and the lack of concern with local population needs and cultures,” Mr. Perdiguero said.

Now, the bank is seeking “pro-poor tourism policies and regulations that lead to genuine social, economic, cultural and environmental benefits,” he said.

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