Tours compete on increasingly chaotic 4,350km river
It’s essential that tourism is sensitively managed if the target of attracting 4 million visitors to the Mekong River by 2020 is achieved, the travel trade is warning, TTG Asia reports.
At 4,350 kilometres in length, the Mekong runs from China to Vietnam, slicing through six countries that offer varying cultures, traditions and experiences. And with many communities living on its banks relying on the waterway for survival, river-based tourism is emerging as a sector that has huge untapped potential.
The opportunity to develop river-based tourism is growing exponentially, says Jens Thraenhart, executive director of Mekong Tourism.
“We want to grow the cruise industry to more than 4 million passengers on the Mekong by 2020. People are looking for experiences of a lifetime and the Mekong region has the potential to deliver that.”
But Pierre-Andre Romano, general manager of EXO Cambodia, fears that this volume of visitors may lead to congested waters and have a negative impact on the environment, if managed incorrectly. Huge investment is need to develop adequate infrastructure, such as docking facilities, he adds.
“The boats cannot sail all year round so care needs to be taken that the waters don’t become too crowded,” he says.
Thraenhart thinks the emphasis needs to be on developing more boutique tours and cruises, in line with community-based tourism models. Several deluxe offerings have launched in recent months, paving the way for more to follow.
Dams more important than tours
But Christopher Gramsch, Khiri Laos general manager, warns that river-based tourism in Laos is becoming increasingly challenging due to the volume of dams being built, in the country’s drive to become the battery of Southeast Asia. Boat trips on the Nam Ou are no longer possible between Muang Khua and Muang Ngoi.
“This was one of the last scenic boat cruises we could offer clients. It seems the energy sector is more important than ecology and tourist boat cruises. The dams clearly have impacts on the tourism sector, and are a problem not only for Southern Laos but also for Cambodia and Vietnam.”