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Destination Mekong hosts 2021 Mekong World Tourism Day Forum on October 6-7

2021 Finalists Announced for Mekong Innovations in sustainable Tourism (MIST) & Experience Mekong Showcases (EMS) to pitch at virtual Forum

Mekong travel and tourism innovators will take virtual center stage on 6-7 October to showcase sustainable tourism initiatives and social enterprises. Register for free at

BANGKOK, 30 September 2021 – The Mekong World Tourism Forum, part of the two-event series of the Destination Mekong Summit, held virtually on October 21-22, will feature inspiring keynote speakers, Bangkok-based award-winning hotel designer Mr. Bill Bensley in conversation with outgoing Executivve Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, Mr Jens Thraenhart, and social impact innovator Mr. Jimmy Pham, founder of Hanoi based social enterprise and Experience Mekong Showcase recipient, KOTO (Know One – Teach One).

Other featured speakers include the winner of MIST 2018, Ms Aroun KKK of Bamboo Lao, and MIST 2019 Finalist, Ms Ros Rotanak of Cambodia-based Chef Nak. Welcome remarks will be given by Ms. Natalia Bayona, Director of Innovvation, Investment, and Education of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and Mr. Steven Schipani, Principal Tourism Industry Specialist of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The forum will be moderated live from the Innovation Lab at Sasin Business School at Bangkok-based Chulalongkorn University by Ms. Wimintra Raj, founder of, and Mr. Jens Thraenhart.

The highlight, between the keynotes and the pitches of the finalists of the Mekong Innovations in Tourism program (MIST) and the Experience Mekong Showcases, is the announcement of the 2021 Mekong Hero, by the chair of the Mekong Heroes selection committee for this year, HE Ms Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, former Minister of Tourism and Sports of the Kingdom of Thailand.  “The concept of this year’s Destination Mekong Summit and Mekong World Tourism Day Forum event series is unique and it was to showcase local experiences and people, and will be highly inspiring and not to be missed, bringing together the passion of the people and entrepreneurs that keep the heart beating in the Mekong Region”, says Jens Thraenhart, Founder of Destination Mekong, the organizer and chair of the events, whose tenure as Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Cooridinating Office will end after the Destination Mekong Summit.

Destination Mekong, the organizer of the MIST and Experience Mekong Collection Showcases programs today announced that 9 finalists in the three tracks (Launch, Growth, and Projects) of the Mekong Innovations in Sustainable Tourism (MIST) program and 15 finalists in the Experience Mekong Showcase program from across the Mekong Region will virtually pitch at the 2021 Mekong World Tourism Day Forum in two half-day afternoons (Indo-China Time) on October 6-7. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the forum will be held virtually.

Now in its fourth year, after pausing the program in 2020, with hundreds of alumni, MIST ( is managed by the private sector-led regional tourism board Destination Mekong, in collaboration with the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office and support of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). 

MIST was initially set up to help integrate Greater Mekong Subregion travel startups into the global travel and tourism ecosystem, promote innovation, and help local firms thrive in the globally competitive tourism industry. This year, MIST has evolved into a pioneering tourism innovations program, focusing on sustainability and resilience, with three tracks: Growth (registered enterprises), Launch (startups and new ventures), and Projects (innovative initiatives).  MIST has attracted over 500 applications and generated millions of social shares in the first three years.

Jens Thraenhart, founder of Destination Mekong and outgoing Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office added: “Elevating the status and prestige of tourism entrepreneurship across the region, MIST is well-positioned to contribute to the rebuilding of travel and tourism in the Greater Mekong Subregion by encouraging inclusive growth and responsible tourism development, via innovation and smart tourism.”

The 15 Finalists of the Experience Mekong Showcases 2021 from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand Viet Nam, as well as Guangxi and Yunnan in PR China are shown below.  Due to the current situation in Myanmar, the Mekong Tourism Advisory Group board decided to recognize all shortlisted businesses from Myanmar as Experience Mekong Showcases. 

The 15 finalists – 3 from each of 5 member countries of the Mekong Region are:

Members of the Mekong Tourism Advisory Group (MeTAG) selected the 60 shortlisted Experience Mekong Collection (EMC) member businesses – twelve from five member countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion from the 300+ members of the Experience Mekong Collection.

The Experience Mekong Collection was created four years ago to recognize and encourage sustainable and responsible tourism development in the Greater Mekong Subregion.  Past winners of the Experience Mekong Showcase can be viewed here: Case studies of the Experience Mekong Showcases are produced in partnership with Mahidol University, Thailand, to educate and inspire young people about the importance of social impact and sustainability in tourism and share learning with the industry at large.

To be appointed as a member of the Experience Mekong Collection, all small travel businesses in the Mekong Region need to fulfill the following requirements:

  1. Make a significant social impact on its community
  2. Provide an authentically local experience positioning the GMS as a responsible, inclusive, and experiential tourism destination.
  3. Have an innovative concept and sustainable business model.

“In recognizing the most innovative best practice businesses as the Experience Mekong Showcases, this sets several benchmarks to further improve travel experiences in the Greater Mekong Subregion. As consumer trends and travel behaviors are changing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we hope this inspires other operators of any size to become involved in responsible and inclusive tourism,” said Mr. Willem Niemeijer, Founder & CEO of Yaana Ventures and current interim Chairman of Destination Mekong.

“Alliances like the Experience Mekong Collection are more important than ever, especially in crises such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, to strengthen resilience both at the destination level, as well as for the individual businesses themselves, via sharing of best practices, networking, cross-promotional activities, and creating operational efficiencies”, says Mr. Jens Thraenhart, outgoing Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, and initiator of the Experience Mekong Collection, operated as part of the private-sector-led regional tourism board Destination Mekong. “I am convinced that the Experience Mekong Collection will help accelerate tourism recovery in the region, as well as protect and conserve these locally authentic experiences, which are the treasure trove of the Mekong region.”

To help struggling members of the Experience Mekong Collection survive these challenging times during the COVID-19 pandemic, a support page has been created at list businesses asking for donations or selling gift certificates.

The winners of both the MIST and Experience Mekong Showcase programs will be determined by a combination of the received votes from the public, polling by attendees during the Mekong World Tourism Day Forum following the pitches, as well as votes by a jury made up of Mekong Tourism Advisory Group (MeTAG) members.

The winners will be announced on October 21-22 at the 2nd Destination Mekong Summit, which will also be hosted virtually. Registration and more information are already available at:

For more information and to register for MIST 2019, please visit