The 32nd Asean Tourism Forum officially opened in Vientiane on Sunday, seeking to boost regional cooperation and attract more tourists to all the Asean member countries.

The regional forum brought together over 1,800 delegates including tourism officials from Asean and its dialogue partners (China, Japan, Republic of Korea, India and Russia), along with buyers, sellers and media from around the world.

Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong addressed the opening ceremony, reiterating that this event is of historic significance for both Asean and Laos in preparation for the Asean Economic Community in 2015.

Mr Thongsing said Asean is a large group of nations in Southeast Asia with diverse languages, cultures, customs and traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. In addition, Asean nations are endowed with rich natural resources and a history of prosperous civilisations and monuments. These features still exist today as attractive tourism resources, making the Asean bloc one of the most desirable destinations in Asia.

“Thanks to excellent cooperation, we have seen the number of tourist arrivals in Asean further increase in the year 2011, with the number of international tourists visiting the region rising to 81.2 million,” Mr Thongsing said.

“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 the newer and longstanding Asean member countries.”

“Over the past years, despite the financial crisis, the hike in oil prices and various natural disasters affecting the tourism industry around the world, we have met the challenges head-on and as a result tourism has stabilised and begun to grow again.”

This is the second time that Laos has hosted the ATF, after first hosting the forum in 2004. The 32nd forum is proceeding under the theme “Asean – Hand in Hand, Conquering Our Future” and will run until January 24.

Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Prof. Dr Bosengkham Vongdara delivered a speech at the opening ceremony, saying that the forum provides an invaluable opportunity for policy makers, administrators, tourism officials and tourism entrepreneurs to share their views, experiences and lessons on the development of tourism.

He said business operators can take this opportunity to buy and sell tourism packages with operators from Asean countries and around the world, publicising the diverse tourism products of Asean and its dialogue partners through national and international media outlets.

The Asean tourism exhibition at Lao-ITECC has 498 booths, with 997 sellers from the 10 Asean member countries, 455 buyers from around the world and 150 media personnel, including 92 from outside Laos.

Laos has been preparing for the forum since the ATF 2012 held in Manado, Indonesia, when the government assigned the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism to organise the event. The ATF Asean Senior Officials Meeting took place in Vientiane on Friday before the participants met their counterparts from China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, India and Russia on Saturday.

Source: Vientiane Times
January 22, 2013