The tourism sector is an important driver of economic growth and employment in the GMS. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the tourism economy hard and disrupted the international tourism flows worldwide. With border reopenings and eased restrictions, tourism recovery has gained momentum with increased international tourism, particularly intraregional tourist arrivals as recorded in most GMS countries for the first six months of 2022.
Prior to the pandemic, the tourism sector in Southeast Asia has faced critical structural challenges, including the overreliance on international tourists from a limited number of source markets that only focused on a few destinations led to overcrowding and reduced resilience; poor infrastructure outside major destinations limited diversification capacity; a large number of low-wage and informal employment constrained achieving high-quality standards; and low spending per tourist resulted in lower tourism revenues.
The pandemic has created new challenges for the sector in response to tourists’ increasing awareness of health and safety precautions and changing behaviors favoring environmentally sustainable tourism services and products. The greater attention and demand for sustainable tourism requires policymakers and business leaders to rethink environmental and social investments for tourism development while at the same time mainstream sustainability into tourism financing plans to rebuild a more resilient sector.
New revenue sources to support sustainable tourism are needed. National governments can explore various financing mechanisms and pricing schemes that provide sustainable funding streams to allow covering cost and reinvesting into managing tourism resources such as climate finance, carbon credits, accommodation tax, entry fees to attractions, or specific user rights such as parking fees.
One of the major limiting factors for governments and tourism enterprises in moving towards sustainable tourism is the lack of access to capital for green investments. This challenge requires the financing and donor community to provide more green financing options that are accessible to smaller scale tourism projects. Governments and development partners should also establish and evaluate sustainability criteria and standards to certify projects for green financing. A partnership approach to crowd in private sector investments can also increase access to finance by spreading the costs and risks of funding sustainable tourism investments.
Further, financing for sustainable tourism can be achieved by integrating sustainable tourism considerations into larger investment projects and programs. Cross-sectoral collaborations can bring co-funding opportunities that benefit all sectors. For example, investments in transport, public health, urban development or environmental planning can all be leveraged to improve destination resilience as tourists are regarded as a key stakeholder group to benefit from while having the power to put pressure on local infrastructure and community livelihood development.
The Mekong Tourism Forum 2022 features an expert-led panel discussion on “New Ways of Connecting Sustainable Tourism Suppliers and Buyers”, moderated by Steven Schipani – Principal Tourism Industry Specialist at the Asian Development Bank. This session will bring together 7 public- and private-sector industry leaders to share insights and perspectives on how to connect Mekong tourism stakeholders with market, finance, and nature to foster sustainability and resilience in the tourism sector.
Don’t miss this opportunity to meet and join discussions with regional tourism experts. See full list of MTF 2022 speaker lineup at: https://mekongtourismforum.org/programme/.