Boosting Regional Cooperation: Lao PDR Hosts 2013 ATF

Lao PDR, a country which last year welcomed over 3.3 million international tourists, has recognized travel and tourism as important drivers of economic growth and acknowledged the benefits of working hand-in-hand with its neighbours by hosting the 32nd ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF), in Vientiane from the 18th to the 25th of January.

ATF is the largest and most important event in the ASEAN tourism cooperation framework, and its objective is to turn the ASEAN region into one united tourism destination for the sustainability of the region´s tourism future.

This year, over 1800 delegates including tourism officials from the ten ASEAN member countries as well as its dialogue partners (China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea and Russia), sellers, buyers and international media professionals were in attendance, with a unified vision: to build bridges and foster cooperation between stakeholders, enable the exchange of knowledge and culture and work together toward peace and prosperity in the region.

The theme of this year´s event was ¨ASEAN: Hand in Hand, Conquering our Future¨ and according to Lao PDR´s Prime Minister H.E. Thongsing Thammavong who addressed the event´s opening ceremony, this was the perfect theme to reflect the activities and successes of the ASEAN community over recent years.

¨Thanks to excellent cooperation, we have seen the number of tourist arrivals in ASEAN increase, ¨ he said.

In 2011, the number of international tourists visiting the ASEAN region reached 81.2 million, according to Prime Minister Thammavong, and the positive effects have been well noted:

¨This has made an enormous contribution to the socio-economic development of member countries – creating jobs, alleviating poverty and helping to close the gap in economic development between new and long-standing ASEAN member countries.¨

The Prime Minister also noted the importance of the closer cooperation between ASEAN members, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, India and other international institutions, saying that these relationships had helped ASEAN to meet challenges head-on and re-stabilize tourism growth in the region.

Lao PDR´s hosting of ATF and the Government´s strong support of the event signify the country´s recognition of the sector and commitment to upstage tourism on the national agenda.

The Secretary-General of UNWTO, Mr. Taleb Rifai, in his message to ATF 2013 which was delivered by Mr. Xu Jing, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, called on ASEAN leaders to further facilitate travel within ASEAN and to include a common visa programme similar to that of the Schengen area. He stated that such a move could drive up international tourist numbers in the region, which would go hand-in-hand with the benefits tourism brings.

Already, eight ASEAN member States have joined the UNWTO/WTTC global campaign to upstage the tourism agenda in the so-called ¨Golden Book¨ initiative. It is hoped that Lao PDR will be the next country in the region to participate in this Global Leaders for Tourism Campaign when the UNWTO Secretary-General visits the country in October.

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