Tourists looking to explore new places have flocked to countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) during the first part of the year, new statistics show. ”The novelty of visiting so-called ‘new’ destinations will continue to drive the eye-catching growth for the Mekong region for the foreseeable future,” said Stephen Yong, executive director of the Mekong Tourism Office (MTO).
Cambodia saw 813,392 visitors in the first six months of 2006, a 19.2% rise from the same period in 2005. Laos saw a 15% rise from January to April, Burma a 7.3% jump through June, with Vietnam 7% up in the first seven months of this year.
Tourist arrivals to Thailand rose 47.5% in the first six months, reflecting the low figures a year earlier in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami, while foreign arrivals to mainland China increased 6.1%.
Tourist arrivals in the GMS countries were growing faster than in many more developed locations due to the catch-up factor, Yong said. The GMS comprises Cambodia, China’s Yunnan province, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.
Better airports, new flights, visas on arrival and easy access from efficient gateway hubs such as Bangkok had also helped boost tourism, Yong added.
Visa barriers between GMS countries are also coming down, largely thanks to the increased number of cross-border access points, more entry points with visas on arrival and easier visa extensions.
Major challenges to growth still exist, however. The GMS had a weak market position, a limited and narrow product base, uncontrolled growth, low yields, high rates of poverty and the inability of governments to control various negative social consequences that came with increased tourism, Yong said.