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Gavin Bell

Chief Development Officer

What excites you about the Mekong Region?

After working in many other regions, coming to Cambodia in 2018 with a few weeks’ notice was my first time in the Mekong Region. In Cambodia I was quickly enamored with the genuine warmth of the Khmer people. After wider travels I discovered a great diversity of culture and nature but linked with elements of shared heritage. The Great Mekong is a spirit that ties it all together. The region quickly pushes those that cannot connect away – but absorbs those that connect. I think I am rapidly falling into the latter group.

Tell us about your Background

I have nearly 30 years of working in responsible tourism, protected areas, and sustainable rural development. This started from the grassroots as a Ranger in UK National Parks to now supporting governments and international organizations. Since leaving the UK in 2006, a major focus of my activities has been in the transition countries of South-Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus I have worked with and on projects supported by a diverse range of international organizations including the UNWTO, UNDP, EU, KfW, ADB, WWF, and the World Bank as well as directly for government agencies and national NGOs. Since 2018 I have been Team Leader/International Resident Expert for the AFD funded Tourism Commercial Capacity Building Programme of the Ministry of Tourism of the Royal Government of Cambodia, and from March 2022, as well as my Destination Mekong role will be supporting the EU with work on an Inclusive Tourism Recovery Plan for Vietnam.

How do you want to make an impact for the region?

Through my role with Destination Mekong, and the other roles that will support it, I hope I can strengthen opportunities to build a positive network of those committed to sustainable tourism. Spending the Covid years in Cambodia showed the real importance of the tourist economy and the impact the full stop had across the value chain. I want to see the day when every tuk tuk is busy, guides are able to select their customers and the governments value their natural heritage for the long-term wealth it can bring.