ASEAN tourism ministers and top executives linking hands at the opening ceremony of AEF 2016
THE first-ever ASEAN Ecotourism Forum (AEF), currently held in Laos’ Pakse from June 21-25, has brought together tourism ministers and senior executives from the 10 ASEAN member countries plus China, Japan and South Korea to discuss regional cooperation regarding sustainable tourism development.
Speaking during the forum’s opening on Tuesday, Bosengkham Vongdara, minister of information, culture and tourism of Laos, said that it was “appropriate and timely for ASEAN to closely join hands in realising the new ASEAN Vision 2025 and ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan 2016-2025”.
Lim Hong Lim, deputy secretary general of ASEAN, believes that the ASEAN 2025 roadmap – which places a greater emphasis on human capital development and inclusive growth in the next phase following the advent of AEC last year – will also “have a bearing on ecotourism development” in the region.
One clear manifestation of the AEF is the adoption of the Pakse Declaration on ASEAN Roadmap for Strategic Development of Ecotourism Clusters and Tourism Corridors, which will be submitted to the head of states for adoption during the 28th ASEAN Summit in Vientiane in September, as one of the key deliverables under Laos’ ASEAN chairmanship this year.
The Pakse Declaration is conceived to “set the foundation for a regional coordinated roadmap to strategically identify, plan and develop a trans-regional network of ecotourism sites linked to major intra-ASEAN transportation routes”, Bosengkham remarked.
The development of these ecotourism clusters and tourism corridors seeks to facilitate cross-border travel as well as travel into rural areas and nature reserves; unlock economic opportunities along overland and waterways; create employment opportunities; revitalise idle natural resources; and transform impoverished areas, announced the ASEAN tourism ministers and head of delegates in a joint media statement.
As well, the importance of connectivity and partnerships for the development of the regional ecotourism landscape was underscored throughout the AEF, with the trade urging private-sector players like AirAsia to link up secondary destinations like Pakse and government to further relax visa requirements for international visitors to ASEAN.
The three-day forum also includes the Green Tourism Exhibition, which features more than 80 display booths, as well as technical tours to attractions like Vat Phou and the 4000 Islands Wetland Area in southern Laos.