2023 Updates on GMS Tourism Recovery

After over two years of stringent lockdowns, tourism in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) is gradually recovering. The subregion is ready to welcome tourists back with diverse offerings, from nature-based activities to cultural immersion. 

Cambodia is ready to welcome tourists back (Photo by Khmer Times/ Chor Sokunthea)

Eased travel restrictions and high vaccination rates have bolstered tourism recovery in the GMS. In 2022, Thailand welcomed 11.2 million foreign tourists, the most in the subregion and surpassing the government’s forecast of 10 million. Stimulus schemes and promotional campaigns helped the country secure 1.5 trillion THB in tourism revenue. Visitors from Malaysia, India, and Singapore were the top contributors. Building on that success, the Thai government targets 25 million international visitors in 2023, with approximately 5 million arrivals from China expected. Viet Nam ranked second in the GMS with 3.6 million international tourist arrivals, generating 21 billion USD in revenue. Viet Nam aims to welcome 8 million inbound arrivals in 2023, targeting key source markets of South Korea, ASEAN, and the United States. Meanwhile, Cambodia and Lao PDR set respective goals of 4 million and 1.4 million international travelers in 2023, significant increases compared to their 2022 figures of 2.28 million and 640,000. Myanmar welcomed 233,487 international tourists in 2022, with China, Thailand, and India being the largest source countries. International arrivals to the GMS are expected to increase substantially thanks to China’s outbound tourism recovery scheme starting from February 2023. 

At the national level, GMS member country governments are adopting and reinforcing supportive strategies and initiatives to accelerate tourism recovery. Thailand extended the period of stay from 30 to 45 days for tourists under a visa exemption and from 15 to 30 days for those with a visa on arrival through 31 March 2023. Officials have proposed extending this visa policy until the end of 2023 following a successful 2022. Viet Nam’s Prime Minister has also urged for simplified visa policies and procedures to boost tourism. In Cambodia, the government has launched a 150  million USD Tourism Recovery Co-Financing Scheme which provides tourism-related businesses with favorable loans at low interest rates and long credit periods for business improvement, expansion, and diversification. Meanwhile, Lao PDR has emphasized the improvement of infrastructure and destination safety to boost tourism. Myanmar also organized the first 3-day in-person travel fair in Yangon from 27 – 29 January 2023 to promote various tourism products. This served as a marketplace to benefit both tourism companies and travelers.  

At the regional level, GMS member countries continue to strengthen intra-regional linkages and cooperation to promote the subregion as “one destination”, with a focus on building partnerships, joint tourism promotions, improving tourism product quality, upgrading tourism infrastructure and facilities, as well as fostering digital transformation and application of information technology in tourism. The subregion is intensifying efforts to enhance the resilience and sustainability of the tourism sector by adopting new initiatives to reduce its environmental footprint. Joint initiatives such as the China-Laos Saysettha Low-Carbon Demonstration Zone and the Cambodia Low-carbon Demonstration Zone in Sihanoukville aim to tackle climate change issues. Several GMS destinations are also accelerating their roadmap towards sustainable tourism development. For example, Cambodia is focusing on ecotourism for tourism recovery; Lao PDR is developing nature-based tourism as a strategic sector for green growth; Thailand is boosting carbon-neutral tourism in accordance with the Thai government’s Bio-Circular-Green Economy Model; and Visit Viet Nam Year 2022 and 2023 both emphasized green tourism development.