Overview of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS)

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) is a natural economic area bound together by the Mekong River, covering 2.6 million square kilometers and  a combined population of around 326 million.

The GMS countries are Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China (PRC, specifically Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

In 1992, with assistance from ADB, the six countries entered into a program of subregional economic cooperation, designed to enhance economic relations among the countries.

With support from ADB and other donors, the GMS Program helps the implementation of high priority subregional projects in transport, energy, telecommunications, environment, human resource development, tourism, trade, private sector investment, and agriculture.

Substantial progress has been achieved in terms of implementing GMS projects since 1992. Priority infrastructure projects worth around $11 billion have either been completed or are being implemented. Among these are the upgrading of the Phnom Penh (Cambodia)-Ho Chi Minh City (Viet Nam) highway and the East-West Economic Corridor that will eventually extend from the Andaman Sea to Da Nang.

The subregion embraces flora and fauna that have expanded northward along the Malay Peninsula into Thailand, encroached upon the high mountains from the Himalayas, or advanced along the broad river valleys as dry deciduous forests similar to those of India. Ten million years of changing sea levels have left a rich legacy of unique life forms that have evolved in isolation on the Cardamom and Annamite mountains of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

These resources provide both income and sustenance to the great majority of people in the subregion who are leading subsistence or near subsistence agricultural lifestyles. The land yields timber, minerals, coal, and petroleum, while water from the many rivers supports agriculture and fisheries and provides energy in the form of hydropower. The coal reserves of the subregion are abundant, and the oil and gas reserves considerable. Most of these are in Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. These abundant energy resources are still relatively underused.

Increasingly, modernization and industrialization are emerging from a process of transition and transformation. The Mekong countries are gradually shifting from subsistence farming to more diversified economies, and to more open, market-based systems. In parallel with this are the growing commercial relations among the six Mekong countries, notably in terms of cross-border trade, investment, and labor mobility. Moreover, natural resources, particularly hydropower, are beginning to be developed and utilized on a subregional basis.

The rich human and natural resource endowments of the Mekong region have made it a new frontier of Asian economic growth. Indeed, the Mekong region has the potential to be one of the world’s fastest growing areas.


The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office

The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) is the secretariat of the GMS Tourism Working Group, and is owned and funded by the six governments of the Greater Mekong Subregion – Cambodia, Lao PDR, PR China, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam. The MTCO is hosted by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of Thailand, and is staffed by an Executive Director and an Operations Manager. The Executive Director reports to the MTCO Board, made up of senior tourism ministry officials of the six member governments. The work is prioritized by an annual work-plan, aligned to the Mekong Tourism Marketing Strategy and Mekong Tourism Sector Strategy. The MTCO manages the MekongTourism.org website, newsletter, and social media accounts, and organizes the annual Mekong Tourism Forum, in partnership with Destination Mekong. More information is available at www.MekongTourism.org.

Destination Mekong (DM) is the regional destination marketing organization, and is owned and funded by the private sector of the travel and tourism industry in the six countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion. DM initiates, develops, and operates various programs and initiatives aligned to the strategic framework of the regional Mekong Tourism collaboration, published by the six member tourism ministries via its secretariat, the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office. Destination Mekong is governed by a Board of Directors, overseen by a Chair, and managed by a staff funded by Destination Mekong membership fees and program revenue streams. Initiatives include the award-winning Mekong Moments and Mekong Mini Movie Festival campaigns, the Mekong Innovations In Sustainable Tourism (MIST) program, the Experience Mekong Collection & Showcases, Mekong Heroes, and Mekong Trends. Destination Mekong also hosts its (Virtual) Destination Mekong Summit, in partnership with MTCO. Destination Mekong manages the Mekong Tourism Advisory Group (MeTAG), and organizes various virtual events in collaboration with MTCO. 

GMS Tourism Sector Strategy 2006-2015

Inbound tourism in the GMS has been one of the fastest growing destinations in the world. Between 2004 and 2006, the number of tourist arrivals, based on thePATA studies, increased by 26%, with an impressive 61% growth for Cambodia and 55% for Yunnan and Guangxi together.

A common goal of both of public and private sectors in all countries is to create sustainable tourism profit. This is achieved optimally by increasing inbound tourism yield, by developing quality products that tourists are willing to buy, and inciting longer stays with enhanced motivation to revisit. Thus, GMS’s strategy is to “develop and promote the Mekong Region as a single destination, offering a diversity of good quality and high yielding sub regional products that helps to distribute the benefits of tourism more widely; add to the tourism development efforts of each country, by fostering a sustainable tourism development approach, by contributing to poverty reduction, gender equality and empowerment of women, while minimizing any adverse impacts.”

The strategy is comprised of 7 core programs: (1) marketing; (2) human resource development; (3) heritage conservation and mitigation of negative impacts; (4) pro-poor tourism; (5) private sector participation; (6) facilitation of travel, and (7) tourism development in priority zones. These core programs are divided into 29 projects including 16 thematic projects and 13 geographical projects.

To download the GMS Tourism Sector Strategy and Road Map 2016 – 2015, please visit GMS TSS 2006-2015.

To download the GMS Tourism Marketing Strategy 2015-2015, please click here.

1) Marketing the sub region as a single destination
To support multi country tourism in the GMS by stimulating demand from high yield markets through appropriate product development and joint promotional activities.

2) Human resource development with women’s empowerment
To upgrade the skills of tourism managers and tourism trainers to ensure that the strategy can be implemented and that the tourism institutions deliver quality training so that qualified staff is in place to face and manage tourism demand from high yield markets.

3) Heritage conservation and mitigation of negative socio-cultural impacts
To promote higher standards in the management of natural and cultural resources to maintain the value of what are the core tourism assets of the GMS; To strengthen socially responsible practices necessary to limit the negative impacts which uncontrolled tourism growth generates.

4) Pro-poor tourism and Equitable Distribution of Benefits
To promote patterns of tourism development that help reduce the incidence of poverty and increase economic opportunities and incomes for the poorest through their empowerment.

5) Private sector participation
To facilitate private sector participation and partnership in planning, investment and marketing.

6) Cross-border facilitation
To address impediments of travel to and within the GMS

7) Tourism-related infrastructure
To jointly plan and develop tourism infrastructure throughout the 13 identified GMS priority zones and to better spread the benefits of tourism. Key challenges over the next ten years will be to maintain sustainability and develop high yield quality tourism. This action endeavors to secure the first foundation of the GMS Tourism Sector that will allow the GMS countries to optimize the benefits from tourism for its human and economic development while preserving the cultural and natural assets, which are assets that are its main capital for the long term.


Visit Scribd to view GMS Conference proceedings here.

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