Governments must lead and direct tourism policies, but the engine behind tourism development is the private sector, and thus one cannot work without the other.
Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Secretary General

It’s not just the 4350km Mekong River that connects China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam; as a single entity they are known as the Greater Mekong Subregion.

In June, an innovative social media marketing campaign and travel inspiration platform called was launched, promoting the subregion as a single tourism destination.

The platform, which will officially go live in September 2017, aims to inspire people to research and book travel experiences in the Greater Mekong Subregion, filtered by destination or activity. It’s also a turn-key solution that will allow any business in the subregion to develop their own free social media campaign by tapping into these crowd-sourced visual moments. Shared moments are connected via geolocation to respective experiences, driving tourists to active operators. GTEF-Article02--01--phototaking.jpg

“It’s quite a unique platform globally,” says Jens Thraenhart, executive director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO). “We call it the first truly collaborative tourism campaign.”


Global dialogue

Countries are realising the importance of working together by sharing information and marketing efforts in developing and promoting tourism.

MekongMoments is just one of many examples of the rising trend of regional collaboration and public-private partnership (PPP) in the tourism industry. The site involves many stakeholders including the six member country governments, six private sector founding partner companies (InterContinental Hotel Group, Small Luxury Hotels, Khiri Travel, Tang Dynasty Tours China, SwissContact and GIZ), and, potentially, many local businesses, consumers and travellers to the subregion who will contribute the user-generated content that will be aggregated on the platform.

“Nowadays if tourism is not developed as public-private partnership, it’s not sustainable,” says Thraenhart.

Tourism is increasingly promoted at the country-to-country level as a method to create shared economic benefits. In 2016, international tourist arrivals grew by 4 per cent year-on-year to 1.2 billion, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO)’s World Tourism Barometer published in April 2017.

“People continue to have a strong appetite for travel and this benefits many countries all around the world, translating into economic growth, job creation and opportunities for development,” says Taleb Rifai, UNWTO’s Secretary-General, in a press statement on the UN agency’s findings. GTEF-Article02--02--GTEF--panel-v2.jpg

Thus, the Global Tourism Economy Forum (GTEF), held annually in Macao, has become a facilitator of such international co-operation in tourism. The forum itself is a global initiative, held in collaboration with the UNWTO and hosted by the city of Macao, co-ordinated by the Global Tourism Economy Research Centre and co-organised by the China Chamber of Tourism. The platform is dedicated to gathering businesses and tourism ministries together in discussions on cross-border public and private sector exchange, and facilitating partnerships in the travel economy through business matching.

Sharing her vision of tourism collaboration, Pansy Ho, the forum’s vice-chairman and secretary-general, says: “GTEF was created as we saw a need for a platform that brings together partner countries, partner Chinese provinces, travel agencies and enterprises. This platform assists Chinese tourism enterprises in going global while also introducing and promoting the Chinese market to the global travel sector. It is also an important channel for promoting technology and sustainability in tourism.”


China revolutionising cross-border collaborations

If there’s one country that has truly embraced collaborations on global, regional and local levels, it’s China. The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed in 2013, aims to link the economies of countries across Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa with a land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and an ocean-based 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, propelling growth and social development along the routes.

The Belt and Road encompass major tourism destinations and tourist sources representing 70 per cent of global tourism, the World Tourism Cities Federation reported. Research shows that in the next five years, 150 million Chinese tourists will visit countries along the Belt and Road, and 85 million tourists from these countries will visit China, generating more than US$300 billion of tourism consumption. GTEF-Article02--03--London.jpg

Another major initiative driven at the top levels of government is the China-EU Tourism Year 2018, which was discussed in 2016 between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. Support from the very highest levels of the public sector for the 2018 initiative has simplified the visa application process for Chinese tourists, with countries like the UK, Germany, Belgium, Italy and France lowering approval requirements for certain visas. Further, this collaboration will be discussed and supported at GTEF 2018, when the EU will be the distinguished Partner Region. With 10.6 million Chinese tourists staying overnight in 2016, government-to-government collaboration remains essential for both driving tourist traffic as well as growth of the tourism economy.


Why collaboration drives tourism

Private sector participation is essential as governments do not operate businesses, creating personalised travel experiences. The private sector also needs regulatory support, access to resources and funding. PPP is a means of bringing all the required resources together.

UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai explains the importance of this model: “Governments must lead and direct tourism policies, but the engine behind tourism development is the private sector, and thus one cannot work without the other.”

Susanne Becken, director of the Griffith Institute for Tourism in Australia and co-author of the UN World Tourism Organisation’s 2015 report on PPPs and tourism development, explains: “Tourism typically involves a wide range of public and private sector stakeholders, communities and various types of organisations that – all together – facilitate the travel experience,” she says. GTEF-Article02--04--TouristsinAsia.jpg

Becken offered an example of a successful PPP: the Air New Zealand and NZ Department of Conservation partnership that uses the country’s nine Great Walks to promote New Zealand as a nature-based destination.

Since the partnership began in 2012, Air New Zealand has helped to grow visitor numbers to the country’s nine Great Walks by 48 per cent through extensive marketing support. The partnership has also supported important biodiversity work on the Great Walks, enabled monitoring of 13 marine reserves and moved more than 2,000 endangered species around the country to safe new breeding sites. Air New Zealand's support for conservation initiatives with the department is worth more than NZ$1 million (US$730,000) annually.


A seamless travel experience

Companies are also taking the initiative into cross-border partnerships. As China is an increasingly prominent source country of tourists, Chinese companies across many sectors naturally also see the opportunity in developing cross-border partnerships in travel. A recent example of these multinational collaborations is China’s Alibaba group entering into a joint venture agreement with Marriott International in August 2017. The goal is to provide a seamless travel experience – from planning to booking to paying to trip management – in China through Fliggy, Alibaba’s travel service platform. Marriott will get to tap into growing numbers of Chinese travellers, who are forecast to take an estimated 700 million trips over the next five years.

Other overseas partnerships spearheaded by Chinese travel companies include leading online travel agency Ctrip’s comprehensive strategic co-operation with Japan’s Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau, announced in July 2017. The two will work together in product development and promotion, big data, marketing innovation and other aspects, to promote the Japanese city to increasing numbers of outbound travellers in China. GTEF-Article02--05--Macaot.jpg

Multinational companies have also expanded into China’s domestic tourism market through cross-border partnerships. One such co-operation is between Tujia, China’s home share booking portal and HomeAway, the largest vacation rental platform worldwide. It now lists more than 400,000 properties in 294 destinations across China and 353 overseas. Tujia also works with local governments in China to expand accommodations for tourists by building home-rental associations. Overall, with 50 million vacant homes under-utilised in China, both public and private partners have much to gain from this fruitful collaboration.

Bridging borders through travel

International travel is increasingly driven by cross-border collaboration between governments and the private sector. Emerging markets, particularly those along China’s Belt and Road Initiative, are benefitting from more tourism and the digitalization of travel. How are businesses able to work more closely with governments and international partners? How is new travel technology rapidly changing global tourism? Discover how the world’s governments and companies are increasing accessibility to travel and expanding markets at the annual Global Tourism Economy Forum in Macao.

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