Under the academic theme, “New paradigms and Resilience for Sustainable and Responsible Tourism in Developing Countries,” the much-expected and timely World Eco-Tourism Conference (WEC) was successfully held at Don Chan Palace Hotel & Convention Centre, Vientiane/Lao PDR, recently.

With over 300 delegates, representing dozens of government agencies, national and international organizations, tour companies and the media, the conference emerged as a new global forum to exchange lessons on sustainable tourism development, in particular lessons learned in developing and regulating Eco-Tourism-related products and services.

Lao PDR Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh mentioned in his opening speech that the country is the acclaimed “Jewel of the Mekong River” by offering World Heritage Sites as well as other amazing natural and cultural tourism attractions. To meet the need for improved infrastructure, the Lao government has invested heavily in building national and local roads and just recently completed major works on the East-West and North-South Economic Corridors. As of 2009, citizens of eight ASEAN countries have been granted visa exemptions and there has also been a liberalization of regulations on the use of border passes for citizens of neighboring countries.

Furthermore, acting deputy secretary general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Dr. Eugenio Yunis singled out Lao PDR as an important example for sustainable development of international tourism. The main objective of the conference was to discuss and address current issues in the wake of the global economic recession, climate change and the swine flu threat.

Key areas were discussed within four sessions, such as Sustainable Eco-Tourism & Roadmaps, Market Development & Resilience, Local Community Challenges & Solutions, and Public & Private Sector Partnerships. Also, there were some technical workshops and a final special session for Development & Marketing of the Greater Mekong-Sub-region (GMS).

It was up to Mr. Peter Semone, former senior advisor for the Mekong Tourism Co-ordinating Office (MTCO) in Bangkok, to present the conclusions of the conference and formulating a kind of Vientiane Declaration. This declaration will be the newest in a series of global pledges that postulate sustainable tourism development to alleviate poverty and conserve environmental resources.

In addition to the very technical presentations and panel discussions, the conference partners of DiscoveryMice, Malaysia, and Lao National Tourism Administration (LNTA) organised for the delegates a complimentary Vientiane City Tour, including a visit to Wat Sisaket, Ho Phra Keo and That Luang. Another option was to join an educational one-day tour to the National Protected Area of Phou Khao Khouay, which is located just over an hour away from Vientiane.

Mr. Somphong Mongkhonvilay, minister and chairman of LNTA, gave special thanks in his closing speech to the Lao Association of Travel Agents (LATA), Tourism Malaysia and India, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and all the other supporting organisations from the public and private sector. Also, a hearty thank you went to Vientiane’s leading restaurants for supporting the conference’s welcome gala dinner that showed a cultural dance group of Sabah, Malaysia.

The next World Eco-Tourism Conference in 2010 will be held in Malaysia.