About MTCO

Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO)

The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) is administered out of the offices of the Department of Tourism of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of Thailand, based in Bangkok, and was established with funding from the six governments of Cambodia, China,Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand, which represent the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS).The office is staffed and overseen by the Executive Director, and supported by the Operations Manager. The staff is guided by the GMS Tourism Working Group (TWG), which is made out of senior representatives of the NTOs of the six member countries. The MTCO gives the opportunity to interns to gain valuable international tourism experience, based on qualification and need.

The MTCO has two major functions:
1) Development – To co-ordinate sustainable pro-poor tourism development projects in the Mekong in line with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, and
2) Marketing – To promote the Mekong region as a single travel and tourism destination.

GMS Tourism Sector Strategy 2005-2015

Inbound tourism in the GMS has been one of the fastest growing destinations in the world. Between 2004 and 2006, the number of tourist arrivals, based on thePATA studies, increased by 26%, with an impressive 61% growth for Cambodia and 55% for Yunnan and Guangxi together.

A common goal of both of public and private sectors in all countries is to create sustainable tourism profit. This is achieved optimally by increasing inbound tourism yield, by developing quality products that tourists are willing to buy, and inciting longer stays with enhanced motivation to revisit. Thus, GMS’s strategy is to “develop and promote the Mekong Region as a single destination, offering a diversity of good quality and high yielding sub regional products that helps to distribute the benefits of tourism more widely; add to the tourism development efforts of each country, by fostering a sustainable tourism development approach, by contributing to poverty reduction, gender equality and empowerment of women, while minimizing any adverse impacts.”

The strategy is comprised of 7 core programs: (1) marketing; (2) human resource development; (3) heritage conservation and mitigation of negative impacts; (4) pro-poor tourism; (5) private sector participation; (6) facilitation of travel, and (7) tourism development in priority zones. These core programs are divided into 29 projects including 16 thematic projects and 13 geographical projects.

1) Marketing the sub region as a single destination
To support multi country tourism in the GMS by stimulating demand from high yield markets through appropriate product development and joint promotional activities.

2) Human resource development with women’s empowerment
To upgrade the skills of tourism managers and tourism trainers to ensure that the strategy can be implemented and that the tourism institutions deliver quality training so that qualified staff is in place to face and manage tourism demand from high yield markets.

3) Heritage conservation and mitigation of negative socio-cultural impacts
To promote higher standards in the management of natural and cultural resources to maintain the value of what are the core tourism assets of the GMS; To strengthen socially responsible practices necessary to limit the negative impacts which uncontrolled tourism growth generates.

4) Pro-poor tourism and Equitable Distribution of Benefits
To promote patterns of tourism development that help reduce the incidence of poverty and increase economic opportunities and incomes for the poorest through their empowerment.

5) Private sector participation
To facilitate private sector participation and partnership in planning, investment and marketing.

6) Cross-border facilitation
To address impediments of travel to and within the GMS

7) Tourism-related infrastructure
To jointly plan and develop tourism infrastructure throughout the 13 identified GMS priority zones and to better spread the benefits of tourism. Key challenges over the next ten years will be to maintain sustainability and develop high yield quality tourism. This action endeavors to secure the first foundation of the GMS Tourism Sector that will allow the GMS countries to optimize the benefits from tourism for its human and economic development while preserving the cultural and natural assets, which are assets that are its main capital for the long term.


About the GMS

The Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) was the fastest growing subregion in Asia and the Pacific in 2013, showing a 17% increase in international tourist arrivals compared to 2012 (Table 3). This was more than double the growth rate in Asia and the Pacific and significantly higher than ASEAN’s 11% increase. Since 2002 international tourist arrivals in the GMS have grown at an average annual rate of about 12%. Although Thailand’s share of total GMS arrivals has declined from 61% in 2004 to 51% in 2013, it remains the major international gateway to the subregion. By country, international tourist arrivals are growing fastest in Myanmar a result of the extensive political and economic reforms that began in 2011. While Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region have a modest combined share (about 15%) of international arrivals, it is important to note that each received over 200 million domestic visitors in 2013. The number of annual domestic trips in Thailand (over 100 million) and Viet Nam (over 35 million) is also significant. (Source: United Nations World Tourism Organization. 2014. UNWTO Tourism Highlights, 2014 Edition)

In 2013 the GMS welcomed 51.7 million international tourist arrivals, representing a 3% share of the global market. Over 60% of international visitors originate in Asia and the Pacific, led by the PRC, Japan, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, and Viet Nam. In 2013 the PRC was the first or second largest source market in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam, and the third largest source market in the Lao PDR (Table 4). Thailand was the top source market for the Lao PDR and Myanmar, and visitors from Viet Nam formed the largest share of international tourist arrivals in Cambodia. Long haul source markets from Europe comprise approximately 20% of international tourist arrivals and those from the Americas about 7%.


Executive Director

Jens Thraenhart


Jens Thraenhart was appointed by the tourism ministries of Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and China (Yunnan and Guangxi) to head the MTCO as its Executive Director. The MTCO is a collaborative effort between the six governments of the GMS countries to promote the Mekong region as a single tourism destination, and foster responsible tourism development in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Jens Thraenhart is founder & president of Digital Innovation Asia (DIA), an initiative endorsed by the UNWTO, ASEAN, and PATA, as well as NTOs in Asia, building digital capacity from social to mobile in the travel and tourism industry in Asia Pacific, including innovative initiatives such as E-Tourism Asia Boot-Camps and Awards, as well as Blogger Match-Up.

He also founded China Travel Trends, as well as award-winning China digital marketing firm Dragon Trail in 2009, and has led marketing and Internet strategy teams with the Canadian Tourism Commission and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, and has consulted for many global companies, most recently for Swire Hotels, Dusit International, and HMD Asia (Shinto Mani Hotel Siem Reap, Cambodia). While at the Canadian Tourism Commission, he founded the Canada-e-Connect Strategy Conference (2007), the Canadian e-Tourism Awards (2007), the Canadian e-Tourism Council (2006). Passionate about story-telling, he co-founded the Tips From The T-List book and blogging community (2007), and created Blogger Match-Up (2013), an innovative blogger outreach model to bring top digital self publishers and influential citizen journalists to Asia and match them up with travel and tourism organizations.

Educated at Cornell University with a Masters of Management in Hospitality, Mr. Thraenhart was recognized as one of the travel industry’s top 100 rising stars by Travel Agent Magazine in 2003, was listed as one of HSMAI’s 25 Most Extraordinary Sales and Marketing Minds in Hospitality and Travel in 2004 and 2005, and named as one of the Top 20 Extraordinary Minds in European Travel and Hospitality in 2014. A UNWTO Affiliate Member  (most recently part of the mission to DPRK), he has served on various boards, including HSMAI and IFITT, and is on the judging panel the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards. As Chair of PATA China, he founded the Annual China Responsible Tourism Forum & Awards in 2011. A dual citizen of Germany and Canada, Jens now lives in Bangkok/Thailand.