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Sixteen SMEs to Co-Host Mekong Tourism Forum in World Heritage Town

March 31, 2017 Conferences No Comments Email Email

Sixteen small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in Luang Prabang, Laos will serve as Host Venues for Mekong Tourism Forum 2017 (MTF 2017), “Prosper with Purpose”, June 6-9.

The organisers of MTF 2017 – the Lao Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism, the Luang Prabang Provincial Information, Culture and Tourism Department, and the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) – invited the SMEs to host 90-minute “breakthrough” sessions on June 7 & 8.

Anna Pollock, Founder of Conscious.Travel, will keynote Mekong Tourism Forum 2017, “Prosper with Purpose”, June 6-9, 2017 in Luang Prabang, Laos.

The breakthrough sessions will take place in the afternoons; after the Forum’s opening ceremonies, keynote speeches, and keynote panel discussions in the mornings, and the included networking lunches.

Breakthrough session topics include experiential tourism, food tourism, adventure tourism, marketing, hotel investment, aviation, river cruises, heritage tourism, ecotourism and wildlife, human capital development, promoting women-led enterprises, child protection, community-based tourism, and clean-green cities.

MTCO Executive Director Jens Thraenhart said: “This approach generates enthusiasm and input from a wide range of Luang Prabang tourism stakeholders and positions the UNESCO World Heritage town as the host destination for the event.

“The Forum is the Greater Mekong Subregion’s (GMS’) premier multi-stakeholder travel & tourism industry event so it is appropriate that multiple stakeholders from the host town help to plan and host the event.

“This is also a new MICE concept, which allows small towns like Luang Prabang to become more competitive in the meetings and events segment.”

In addition to inviting Luang Prabang tourism stakeholders to host MTF 2017 sessions, the content itself is being developed by the industry for the industry.

“Each session will be facilitated and led by an expert organization in the specific field,” Mr Thraenhart explained.

He added: “This year’s MTF will be highly inclusive and we hope that delegates find it engaging and memorable, with ample opportunity to experience the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang.”

Eight topical tracks with two sessions each will take place simultaneously at host venues in and around Luang Prabang in the afternoons of June 7 & 8.

When they register (at, Forum delegates can choose a different track for each afternoon, allowing each delegate to explore explore four interactive sessions at four distinct Host Venues.

The 16 MTF 2017 breakthrough sessions and their Host Venues are:

Track 1: Niche Markets
This track will explore growing market segments, such as youth tourism and adventure tourism, and their relevance to the GMS.

Session 1: Youth Market
Estimates from the different organisations involved in the youth tourism business, such as the Federation of International Youth Travel Organisations (FIYTO), put the size of the youth travel market as high as 20% of all international travellers. With an increasingly younger demographic travelling in the region, and looking for local experiences, this session will tackle the issue of developing products and experiences to keep the GMS relevant to this important market segment.

Kiridara Hotel – Kiridara Hotel is a boutique four-star property set in an elevated location south of the old town centre of Luang Prabang. Local tourist attractions such as Royal Palace, Phu Si and Wat Mai are not far from the property. Kiridara’s restaurant commands a north-facing view to Phu Si and will offer a quiet, intimate venue in which to explore the session topic. Website:

Session 2: Adventure Tourism
In 2014, a report by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) revealed that the adventure tourism market, defined as a trip that “includes at least two of three elements: physical activity, natural environment, and cultural immersion”, had become a US$263 billion market, growing an average 65% annually since 2009. With its contrasting landscapes and diverse anthropological make-up, the GMS is ideal for adventure. This session will debate how the GMS can be further developed and positioned as a premier adventure travel destination.

Luang Prabang Golf Club – Hills and valleys overlooking Luang Prabang and the Mekong River provide a magnificent setting for this unique golf course; a highly strategic and challenging 18-Hole, 7,443-yard, par 72 championship layout, including the signature par 3 #17. MTF 2017 delegates will enjoy spectacular views of the World Heritage town and the mighty Mekong from the clubhouse balcony while negotiating the interactive session topic. Website:

Track 2: Human Capital Development
Attracting, training, and retaining good people is one of the toughest challenges faced by a travel & tourism business anywhere in the world. This is certainly the case in the GMS where strong economic growth offers opportunities in many other industries that are perceived to be more lucrative if not more rewarding. The demand for qualified travel, tourism, & hospitality staff in the GMS currently outstrips supply. And while the culturally-ingrained grace and hospitality of the people often wins through, there is a correlation between service quality and industry indicators such as expenditure per trip and revenue per available room (RevPAR) that cannot be ignored.

Session 1: Talent Development
Developing a solid workforce in the Mekong region is critical to delivering the experiences and services expected by travellers. The session will explore various strategies and models, such as LANITH in Laos, tourism universities, Inthar Heritage in Myanmar, and others, of talent development. The session also aims to take into account the needs and requirements of the industry to deliver services, and maintain their standards, especially when expanding in the GMS.

The Balcony by LANITH – LANITH aims to build hospitality and tourism centres of excellence throughout Laos to educate and train staff for the country’s booming tourism industry. The Balcony bar and restaurant at LANITH Luang Prabang operates as a social enterprise and reinvests all of its profits back into the training centre. Students staff The Balcony under the guidance of professionals. Sample the Balcony’s service while enjoying the topical session. Website:

Session 2: Promoting Women-led Enterprises
Tourism can help poor women break the poverty cycle through formal and informal employment, entrepreneurship, training, and community betterment. Not all women are benefiting equally from tourism development, however. While in some regions tourism helps empower women, in other regions, tourism negatively affects the lives of women and perpetuates existing economic and gender inequalities. And, in some cases, lack of education and resources may prevent women from participating in the tourism economy. Drawing from case studies on how to successfully foster women-based enterprises, this session will discuss challenges and opportunities in the GMS.

Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre – Founded in 2000, Ock Pop Tok has grown from a small shop selling only a few designs, to becoming one of the most important textile and arts institutions in Laos. Meaning “East Meets West” in Lao, Ock Pop Tok was founded on principles of fair trade and sustainable business practices, and was a pioneer in social business and ethical fashion. Enjoy amazing views over the Mekong from OPT’s Living Crafts Centre restaurant as you discover more about the Forum topic. Website:

Track 3: Experience Development
The 2015-2020 GMS Tourism Marketing Strategy shifted from “Explore Mekong” to “Experience Mekong”. The global traveller today is looking for experiences, such as interacting with communities, tasting local dishes, learning about heritage and culture, and exploring landscapes. Providing such experiences is becoming essential to competing in the global tourism landscape.

Session 1: Food Tourism
Food has always been central to the travel experience, offering not only interesting new flavours but also insights into the customs and traditions of a place. In recent years food tourism has grown considerably and become one of the most dynamic and creative segments. And there is a growing number of travellers for whom food is the primary reason for travel. This session will debate the opportunities and challenges facing the GMS as a food tourism destination, including experience development, sourcing, hygiene, waste, and safety.

Calao Restaurant – A new restaurant by the people behind Luang Prabang’s acclaimed l’Elephant French restaurant among other popular eateries, Calao is located on the picturesque Khem Khong Road overlooking the mighty Mekong River. Differentiating Calao will be its greater emphasis on Lao cuisine infused with French flair. The restaurant resides in a mansion built by a Portuguese merchant in 1904, which then became the six-room Le Calao Inn. Learn more about culinary tourism in this newly repurposed heritage building. Website: N/A

Session 2: Ecotourism & Wildlife
Wildlife tourism and ecotourism are arguably the fastest growing sectors of tourism. However, as demand increases and profits rule, some wilderness areas are in retreat or being quickly degraded due to inappropriate tourism. And almost no money finds its way back into conservation. Nor are communities living in the vicinity of wildlife habitats getting much more than menial jobs in exchange for sharing lands and resources that once sustained their families with dignity. This session explores how ecotourism and wildlife tourism can introduce visitors to wild and remote destinations in a way that is neither intrusive to traditional ways of life nor destructive to the environment.

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden – Pha Tad Ke is the first botanical garden in Laos. It is created to be a regional research centre into plant reintroduction, horticulture, ethnobotany and medicinal plants to address critical problems ranging from local natural resource management to conserving biodiversity. Employing local villagers, the property also provides visitors with a range of experiences including garden tours and eco-treks. Enjoy the boat ride to and from Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden as well as the Forum session overlooking a lotus pond. Website:

Track 4: Culture & Heritage
Culture & heritage tourism promotes “travelling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present”. The GMS has a lot to offer when it comes to cultural and heritage tourism. This track looks at how to protect the culture and heritage of the Mekong region, while developing products and experiences to allow for responsible and sustainable tourism development.

Session 1: Intangible Heritage
One of the principal motivations to travel, for many, is to engage with new cultures and to experience the performing arts, handicrafts, rituals, and cuisines of a place. The interaction spurred by such encounters prompts dialogue, builds understanding, fosters tolerance and peace, and nurtures a sense of pride among communities. Through tourism it can also be a source of income. This session will look at how intangible heritage can be leveraged by tourism to deliver fair outcomes for host communities.

Traditional Arts & Ethnology Center (TAEC) – Founded in 2006, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC) collects, preserves, and interprets the traditional arts and lifestyles of the country’s many and diverse ethnic groups. TAEC’s doors opened to visitors in July 2007 to exhibit the ethnic cultures of Laos and promote handicrafts in the museum shop. TAEC is the only independent resource centre in Laos dedicated to Laos’ ethnic groups. Dive into the session topic in TAEC’s balcony cafe. Website:

Session 2: Festivals
The Mekong Region has a wealth of local festivals, some of which are actively promoted to visitors, inviting them to experience local culture through participation. Many festivals, however, remain unexploited by tourism. This session will consider how the tourism industry can leverage the attraction of festivals while maintaining their integrity.

Mekong Kingdoms’ ‘Play’ – Mekong Kingdoms is a new player in Mekong River cruising, offering “stylish new ways to meander along Southeast Asia’s more beguiling river”; new routes, bespoke itineraries, and curated experiences. MK’s 42-metre vessel, Play, is a sophisticated floating lounge crewed by a highly-trained staff. The vessel will launch in April 2017 with a suspended lounge with sun beds, air-conditioned private room, and a well-stocked bar. Enjoy Play while at work on the Forum topic. Website:

Track 5: Marketing & Sales
Promoting products and services has increasingly shifted online. While the channel mix has changed, the fundamentals of marketing remain the same. Understanding markets, demographics, and consumer behaviour is critical to success.

Session 1: Emerging Markets

China has become one of the most important source markets in the global tourism industry, and even more important for the GMS due its proximity. However the Chinese market is extremely complex, and requires commitment and a clear strategy in order to be successful. This session will introduce delegates to multiple segments of the China market, look into the complex social media landscape, and clues on how to develop a China strategy.

Manda de Laos Restaurant – The property on which Manda de Laos sits has been in the same family for generations. Lao food traditions are actively preserved here in honour of the matriarch Phiew, who learned to cook traditional Lao dishes from her mother and passed her passion on to her five daughters. The restaurant, considered one of the finest in Luang Prabang, sits at the edge of three beautiful lotus ponds, which are also preserved; listed as UNESCO World Heritage since 1995. Website:

Session 2: Social Media & Digital Marketing
Digital, social, and mobile have become critical components in the marketing mix. This session will reveal some of the latest trends from the largest travel site in the world, Tripadvisor, and introduce the collaborative #MekongMoments campaign as a tool for even the smallest operator to promote their business at no cost. This how-to session is not to be missed by anybody interested in building their business while promoting the region as a whole.

Mekong River Cruises’ ‘Mekong Star’ – A Lao-German joint venture, Mekong River Cruises launched the first long-distance river cruise on the upper Mekong River in 2005 on the unique Mekong Sun. Mekong River Cruises offers different routes between Chiang Saen in Thailand, Luang Prabang and Vientiane in Laos, and the provinces of Thailand’s Issan region. The company’s newer vessel, the Mekong Star, with the bright, open indoor/outdoor spaces of its upper deck, will provide the perfect venue for the Forum session. Website:

Track 6: Responsible Tourism
Responsible tourism requires that everyone with a stake in tourism – operators, hoteliers, governments, locals, and travellers – take responsibility. Responsible tourism is about “making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit”. This track explores two aspects of that multi-faceted challenge.

Session 1: Community-Based Tourism
Community-based tourism (CBT) is a form of responsible tourism that supports local communities and improves livelihoods, where community members themselves manage the destination. This session draws on successful case studies and discusses how sustainable CBT models can be developed that may help protect a place and support livelihoods.

Living Land – The Living Land community enterprise was formed in response to the destructive methods of farming commonly used in Laos. The founders share their land-friendly knowledge and methods with local farmers, government departments, educational institutions, and students. Tourists can enjoy a half-day rice experience in which they perform with their own hands every stage of traditional rice production. Living Land’s Terrace Restaurant, overlooking the rice fields and mountains in the distance, will be the venue for a fascinating interactive session. Website:

Session 2: Child Protection
According to ECPAT, more children than ever are at risk of being sexually exploited by travellers and tourists. And no country is immune. The explosion of the internet and mobile technology has given perpetrators anonymity and hidden pathways to seduce children via social media and internet-based games. Furthermore, new travel and tourism services like home-stays, voluntourism, and the sharing economy have increased this anonymity and heightened children’s vulnerability. This session will inform how to collaborate in combating child exploitation.

Chantavinh Resort – Chantavinh Resort is located on the opposite side of the Mekong River from Luang Prabang, near Ban Chan village. Ban Chan is famous for its pottery. To get to the resort, MTF 2017 delegates will take a short ferry ride across the river during which they can enjoy the late afternoon sun. On the boat ride back, the sun will be setting over the Mekong. Website:

Track 7: Carrier Capacity & Connectivity
In addition to visa facilitation, transport infrastructure in the GMS has dramatically improved over the past decade – rail, river, road, and air. The improved infrastructure makes it easier for travellers to move within the region and boost tourism development in secondary destinations.

Session 1: Aviation
Air transport is one of the most important factors affecting tourism development within the GMS. Aviation allows quick access from all over the world and generates demand for intraregional travel and visits to secondary destinations. The growth of legacy and low-cost carriers and the expansion and development of airports, coupled with the increasing demand for intra-regional travel is presenting new challenges and opportunities for the GMS. What needs to be done to ensure that the region’s air connectively adequately address these issues?

Sofitel Luang Prabang’s Governor’s Grill – Occupying a century-old colonial mansion, which was built as the governor’s residence complete with fortified walls and watchtowers, is the all-suite Sofitel Luang Prabang. Explore the Forum topic in style at the edge of Sofitel’s landscaped courtyard under the safari tent of the Governor’s Grill steakhouse restaurant. Website:

Session 2: River Cruises
Mekong River cruises hold great potential for showcasing the abundant heritage, culture, and scenery of the region. With growing demand and supply also come other issues, such as congestion, especially in main river ports. This session will explore regional challenges and opportunities.

Luang Say Cruises’ ‘Pak Ou 3′ – Since 1999, Luang Say’s custom built luxury river boats have travelled on the Mekong in Laos between Luang Prabang and Huay Xai. Luang Say’s Pak Ou 3 is a 35-metre custom steel power boat used on a range of cruises in which passengers overnight in land-based accommodation. Crewed by six, Pak Ou 3 has a capacity of 40 passengers; sure to be a magical venue for a Forum session. Website:

Track 8: Sustainable Investment
The ASEAN region bucked the trend in 2014, with a 5% increase in foreign direct investment (FDI) while global FDI fell 16%. “Developing Asia”, which includes parts of the GMS, did even better, welcoming 9% more FDI. However, not all investment is sustainable. This track looks at opportunities in the GMS, challenges in certain markets, and ways to put appropriate policies in place to ensure a balanced and sustainable investment climate.

Session 1: Hotel Investment
The is now more demand for authentic and boutique accommodation experiences in the GMS. What are the investment opportunities in the hotel sector, and what are the markets that have the greatest potential? This session will reveal key trends, opportunities, challenges, and risks that could tamper future hotel investment.

Luang Prabang View Hotel – The Luang Prabang View Hotel truly lives up to its name, boasting a commanding view of the heritage town. The hotel’s construction began in 2007; a multi-million-dollar project that took three years to complete. The property’s striking Som View Restaurant enjoys the same great views from its temperature-controlled interior or breezy outdoor setting. Website:

Session 2: Clean-Green Cities
The development of clean and green cities is becoming more important as tourism numbers increase, and waste becomes a burden. There are initiatives to ban plastic bags and single-use water bottles and to conserve and recycle water – a few organisations are driving important projects – yet more needs to be done. This session will debate how travel operators can adopt and implement such programs, and learn from best practices.

Grand Hotel Luang Prabang – The 75-room Grand Luang Prabang Hotel proudly sits on the banks of the Mekong River with a view of the mountains surrounding Luang Prabang. The resort resides on the 59,000-sq m estate of the Xiengkeo Palace, which belonged to the Lao nationalist hero Prince Phetsarath. The stand-alone Le Bistrot overlooks the Mekong and offers a comfortable setting for the interactive Forum session. Website:

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