Mekong area should become one

Mekong area should become one

CHIANG RAI : Countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) should promote their tourist attractions as a single destination to comply with the planned Asean Economic Community in 2015.

GMS members should develop tourism infrastructures together and promote cross-border tourism, executives told the Mekong Tourism Forum 2012.

Suwat Sidthilaw, the tourism and sports permanent secretary, said a GMS committee should design package tours that connect GMS members Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and China.

"Thailand should play a leading role in this subregion by supporting and educating neighbouring countries on upgrading tourism standards to regional levels," he said.

The GMS should work with tourism associations such as the Pacific Asia Travel Association on marketing and networking, he added. There are two potential sources of funds: membership fees and financial support from the Asian Development Bank.

"We selected Chiang Rai to host the forum because it has high potential to be a tourism hub for GMS countries thanks to its proximity to Laos, Myanmar and China, which can be reached by land, water or air," said Mr Suwat.

Willem Niemeijer, the chief executive of Khiri Travel, said Chiang Rai is the centre of the GMS, but despite its physical beauty and location, Chiang Rai's tourism sector has long underperformed.

Chiang Rai airport was upgraded to international status in 1992, but no additional international airlines added routes.

In 2010, about 385,000 international visitors visited Chiang Rai compared with 1.7 million for Chiang Mai and 4.5 million for Phuket, said Mr Niemeijer.

"It's very disappointing for Chiang Rai, which has many attractions and much potential," he saidd.

The city has an art centre and several temples, elephant camps, royal projects, hilltribe villages, archaeological sites in Chiang Saen and an opium museum. Upscale hotels such as the Four Seasons Tented Camp, the Anantara and Le Me{aac}ridien are also available.

"Chiang Rai's real problems are related to land transport, closed borders and visa restrictions for Myanmar, Laos and China. It is a de facto dead end," said Mr Niemeijer.

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