Vang Vieng, Lao PDR

Private and public: how to build low-impact tourism in the Mekong

Post-pandemic travel in the Mekong Sub-Region has adapted to changing customer demand and environmental imperatives.

Image courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand

Concerned about environmental degradation and interference in local culture, tourists are increasingly demanding sustainable tourism options that support local communities and reduce the impact on the environment.

The travel ecosystem is responding in kind, by promoting sustainable tourism experiences – whether by designing low-impact itineraries, using electric vehicles or mandating recycling in hotels and restaurants.

Sustainability is an all-hands affair – both private sector and government have a role to play in promoting it.

The Kingdom of Thailand has become a regional leader in promoting sustainable tourism, creating the framework for other tourism stakeholders to follow. In 2021, the Government introduced the Bio-Circular-Green Economy (BCG) model as their model for national development and post-pandemic recovery.

The BCG model emphasizes science, technology and innovation to “turn Thailand’s comparative advantage in biological and cultural diversity into competitive advantage”. Implementing the BCG vision in practice calls for participation from all stakeholders.

“When you talk about BCG, people would think, ‘oh, it’s only for big companies,’” explains Arrut Navaraj, managing director of Sampran Riverside and president of the Thai Organic Consumer Association (TOCA). “But hotels, restaurants, and consumers can join the BCG model.”

TOCA is collaborating with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association (TEATA), and Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organisation (TGO)  to promote low-carbon tourism in areas like Krabi.

The ongoing project leverages TOCA’s digital platform and TEATA’s marketing strengths to increase tourist awareness of sustainable local tours in Krabi and other off-the-beaten-path destinations in Thailand; these low-carbon routes are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to conventional tourist activities, in line with the BCG Economic Model.

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is also building its sustainable travel capacity as well, with help from international organizations. A €2.2 million EU-funded SUSTOUR initiative is helping local tourism advocates reduce their industry’s carbon footprint, while delivering positive benefits for the local environment, people and economy.

To maximize its impact, the SUSTOUR program is focusing its efforts on Luang Prabang, Vientiane Province, and Vientiane Capital.  SUSTOUR conducts Lao-language workshops to impart sustainable practices to local entrepreneurs. The initiative also includes the Lasting Laos certificate, which certifies compliance with benchmarks and checklists of sustainability requirements based on the International Travelife certificate.

At the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO), we’re proud to help all tourism stakeholders in the region – both public and private – to expand their carbon-neutral tourism efforts, and create a more sustainable travel experience from as far north as Lijiang in China to as far south as Pattani in Thailand.

Carbon-neutral tourism is increasingly imperative in the Mekong Sub-Region – and it’s everyone’s job to get it done. 

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