Monday, May 30, 2011

15 Minutes of Fame

Posing with a young lady dressed in traditional Lao costume at the Gala Dinner
So what was the Mekong Tourism Forum (MTF) and what was Hanuman's part in it. Well, the 2nd part first. We took the trip up to Pakse in Laos on Thursday, following on from the success of last year’s event in Siem Reap. Hanuman acted as one of the official sponsors for the MTF 2011, supplying support and logistics for a pre-conference motorcycle trip from Phnom Penh to Pakse via Kratie with Hanuman's own Lonely Planet editor Nick Ray. Spending a night in Champasak to attend a New Media Boot Camp at La Folie Laos lodge on Don Daeng Island, Nick overnighted at the Inthira Champasak Hotel before continuing on to Pakse for the main event at the Champasak Grand Hotel. He joined myself, Guillaume and Bophay at our stand at the travel exhibition and we got involved in presentations and lively debate during the conference. I teamed up with Elephant Valley Project founder Jack Highwood to promote Responsible Tourism in Mondulkiri Province. Jack introduced the Elephant Valley Project via a series of videos and impressed the audience with his commitment to elephant conservation and his original ‘Walking with the Herd’ experience. He also promoted the mutually beneficial relationship between Hanuman and the Elephant Valley Project to demonstrate that the NGO community and private sector can team up to offer visitors a good cause experience. For my sins, I described Hanuman’s active commitment to Responsible Tourism in Cambodia and the Mekong region through an introduction to a variety of products and experiences, including Cambodian birding safaris with the Sam Veasna Centre, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre in Luang Prabang and KOTO Restaurant in Vietnam. In was in a section of the forum called 15 Minutes of Fame. It wasn't my best-ever public performance but hopefully it shone a light on RT for some of the MTF delegates.

The MTF itself lasted a couple of days. I was there for day 1 only and spent a large part of it following my 15 Minutes manning our booth with Guillaume and Bophay, not forgetting Phon our driver. Nick was on a panel discussion in the early afternoon slot that introduced journeys in the Mekong region, with all roads leading to Pakse. He included a bunch of photos taken on his motorbike trip up the Mekong and gave his version of events. Throughout the day there was a series of panel discussions from tourism experts, journalists, development specialists, marketeers and so on. All geared towards raising the tourism profile of the Mekong countries. The booths were an opportunity for travel companies like ours to highlight their wares, though there were a range of other exhibitors as well as a series of performances from Lao singers and dancers. In the afternoon, the exhibition hall became overrun with schoolchildren bent on collecting any freebies they could get their hands on. Nice kids though. On our first evening we attended a pre-forum welcome party at the Champasak Grand Hotel and then a Gala Dinner on Friday night, at the Champasak Culture Hall, where we fed ourselves on Lao cuisine provided by a series of restaurants and hotel, as well as watching more live performances. The next morning, I woke early to make my way back to Phnom Penh whilst my colleagues stayed for day 2 of the MTF and another Farewell Dinner before making their way back overland via the minibus and the motorbikes. More at the MTF website.
More traditional Lao costumes from the provinces with one of the MTF delegates in red
Traditional dance performances on the main stage at the Gala Dinner
Two of the sweetest Lao schoolgirls to visit our booth. They took my photo, so I took theirs.
Two ladies from a neighbouring booth holding up framed pictures of Hanuman PR postcards
Bophay manning the Hanuman booth at the exhibition hall
Delegates at the official opening of the exhibition area
A flag waving ceremony opened up the Mekong Tourism Forum in the exhibition hall

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