14 Jun 2012
CHIANG RAI, 13 June 2012: The annual Mekong Tourism Forum kicked of Tuesday evening at a welcome dinner hosted at the town’s Mae Fah Luang Arts and Cultural Park.
Chiang Rai province’s governor, Tanin Subhasaen welcomed around 200 delegates and representatives from the Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports, the official host of the MTF this year.
The forum’s Thursday session will focus on the emerging role Myanmar will play in regional tourism following the lifting of sanctions and the introduction of reforms after national elections earlier this year.
But there are also concerns over the future of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office that is currently located in Bangkok and headed by executive director Mason Florence.
Business sessions opened Wednesday morning following Monday’s Tourism Working Group meetings attended by government representatives of the six countries of the Greater Mekong Sub-region.
Hosting the MTF is rotated between member countries – Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and two provinces Yunnan and Guangxi in China.
According to a reliable source, who attended the tourism working group meetings, the hot issue is the MTCO’s on-going legal status. It is understood the office is illegally functioning in Thailand due to an alleged failure of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports to register the office under the appropriate regulation or law.
Established with its own director in 2005, the office is located at the Ministry of Tourism and Sports which provides free space and utilities.
MTCO has its historical roots in a Tourism Authority of Thailand operation that was named AMTA (Agency for Mekong Tourism Assistance) that was legally functioning under the TAT and was staffed by TAT executives from the authority’s own financial resources. TAT transferred all funds to the MCTO during its establishment during the tenure of its first executive director and former Pacific Asia Travel Association executive, Stephen Yong.
Tourism Working Group officials, yesterday, faced up to the reality that their independent office has continued for seven years without legal status making it almost impossible for it to raise funds either from public or private organisations.
Staff have no legal security cannot benefit from any of Thailand’s employment support schemes, while the office status remained unresolved despite alerts from three executives directors over its exposure to legal ramifications.
A TWG source told TTR Weekly, during the welcome dinner the group was now engaging the issue. They noted there were options on the table, but there was now a sense of urgency to establish legal status possibly as a non-government organisation.
“It will enable the office to pitch for support funds and raise sponsorships from the private sector,” the source explained. “It has been problematic, despite all the effort the legal framework is not in place for the office to receive funds or function as a legal entity. It needs to be resolved.”
In the past, there have been offers to rotate the office’s location with Laos and Cambodia both making offers to provide office and logistic support.
On the sidelines of the Tourism Working Group meeting, Monday, the Asian Development Bank continued on-going discussions with Myanmar officials on the bank’s moves to reinstate aid and grants to the country that were stopped by sanctions. It is almost 26 years since ADB was active in development projects in Myanmar.
ADB officials confirmed they were now ready to embark on a three-pronged strategy focusing on developing sector plans for a variety of industries including tourism, technical assistance and the reintroduction of loans and grants.
Negotiations are underway on a process to pay arrears that Myanmar owed to ADB dating back to pre-sanctions days.
Tourism is a lead sector in ADB plans with a US$250,000 tourism master plan study due to start in August and funded by the Norwegian government. It will take around six months to complete the master plan that will go out for bid possibly as early as this August.
ADB units are already working on sector plans for other industries including agriculture, fisheries and transport, while tourism gets the first technical assistance grant that will focus on the five-year tourism plan.