Vang Vieng, Lao PDR

A holistic, one-day forum on tourism, sustainability, cinema

The first half of the forum featured top tourism professionals, who spoke about the importance of films, to promote destinations.

“Destinations can inspire travellers to explore new experiences, through films, and human impact stories.” — Jens Thraenhart, founder of the Asia Destination Film Forum

A unique and intensive Asia Destination Film Forum was held in Bangkok, a one-day event which covered a wide array of fields — business, tourism, sustainability,

The first half of the forum featured top tourism professionals, who spoke about the importance of films, to promote destinations. Tanes Petsuwan, deputy governor, marketing communications, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), spoke of the many Hollywood movies that had put Thailand on the international tourist map — James Bond 007, Bridge on the River Kwai, The Railway Man. He admitted that the many Bollywood movies shot in Thailand also helped to popularise the destination and bring huge numbers of Indian tourists to Thailand. That’s why he said that TAT used a lot of visual media campaigns for their marketing initiatives.

Deepak Ohri, the Indian CEO of Bangkok’s top Leboa Hotel, spoke of the marketing campaigns his hotel did with the producers of the Hollywood film Hangman 2, when that film was shot in his hotel. He informed that the Hangman Suite, Hangman Tours, even a martini drink called the Hangman-Tini became very popular tourist-draws.

In fact, former Thai tourism minister Weersak Kowsurat suggested at the forum, that may be a film visa could be issued, for the many foreign film units shooting in Thailand!

Joe Choo, of the Singapore Tourism Board, informed how the movie Crazy, Rich Asians had given a huge boost to tourism in the  country, which led them to create unique tourism programmes, like Crazy Rich Asian Tours
and so on.

Cambodia-based Australian producer Nick Ray stated that the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia, had opened out to the world only after Angela Jolie’s film Tomb Raider was shot there, in 2000. Since then, the production house Hanuman Films owned by him and his well-known Cambodian filmmaker wife Kulikar Sotho, had been involved with many foreign film productions in Cambodia. Their own film The Last Reel, had taken them to festivals around the world, including Goa in India.

Meanwhile Dr Shean Chadwell and Gabriel Kuperman, of the Luang Prabang Film Festival in Laos, informed how the open-air film festival had helped to hugely promote the destination, drawing as many as 20,00 people, every year, including tourists.

One also heard of the huge boost given to tourism in Vietnam, by the Hollywood film King Kong.

The negative aspects of tourism were pointed out too, caused by an over-kill of film shootings, and consequent over-kill of tourists. Particular mention was made of  once-pristine destinations like Maya Beach in Thailand (which has now closed down) and Halong Bay in Vietnam,

That’s why “sustainability” was an important theme of the forum.

At a panel discussion on the subject, Janet Salem of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) spoke with pride about their ‘Sustainability’ film on  the wonderful Palawan island in the Philippines, which had bagged many awards, and more importantly, had reached out to audiences around the world.

Graham Harper of PATA, stated that it would be good for tourism professionals to consult film-makers, when making movies about sustainability.

The forum had an interesting interaction with video bloggers who spoke about the wide reach of their blogs across the world.

“I’ve reached out to people in more than 60 countries” said Thai blogger Art Thomya.

“Social media influencers are more important than advertisers”, said Australian food-blogger Gary Butler.

Meanwhile, the country in focus at the forum, was Mongolia, about which one knew little, until one heard the presentations of Mongolian minister for environment and  tourism Tserenbat Namsrai and their director general of tourism Bayasgalan Saranjav.

Both said that Indian films were very popular in Mongolia (they both hummed the song, “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy”, from the Bollywood film, Disco Dancer) and stated that they would gladly welcome and support Indian film-shootings in Mongolia.

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