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NB Portrait HoiAn 2copy

Neal Bermas

Special Advisor (Social Enterprise)

What excites you about the Mekong Region?

Simply put, what doesn’t excite me about the region? Since my first visit 20 years ago, the sites, smells, colors, energy … the markets, the people, the foods, and the spiritual have captured my attention. That largely remains the same. It’s exciting to be part of preserving all that Mekong specialness for others, too.

Tell us about your Background

For the last dozen years, I have lived and devoted myself to sustainable hospitality and tourism in Vietnam and the Mekong region. I have been an international hotel and gaming consultant, a restaurant owner and operator, and lectured widely at top US universities and culinary schools.

I established and ran STREETS International, an ambitious social enterprise providing vocational hospitality and culinary training to poor, marginalized, orphaned, and trafficked youth from Vietnam and Cambodia. The STREETS residential program included two authentic Vietnamese eateries based in Hoi An, Vietnam. Pre-pandemic, we served approximately 15,000 guests per year. We have over 350 graduates at the best hotels and resorts throughout the region.

I have been a speaker and award recipient from Destination Mekong a number of times. I know its importance and also the potential.

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

I want to continue to build on the impact Destination Mekong has already made. I want to be part of realizing the possibilities beyond a conventional RMO (regional marketing organization) to being a bona fide leading tourism organization that stands for responsible, sustainable tourism and travel. There are development threats but also opportunities to collaborate with local communities.

The opportunity is to strongly differentiate Destination Mekong as a model of impact, marrying sustainable tourism and sound economic development. The slow travel movement is sustainable tourism at its best and it fits the terrain of the countries in our region perfectly. I want to see this movement gain momentum.

The concentration of successful travel-related social enterprises in our region is unique worldwide. It’s a platform that we should celebrate. I want to be impactful by supporting social entrepreneurs to market and expand sustainable tourism social enterprises. Most importantly, as a Special Advisor to Destination Mekong, I want to do everything I can utilizing sustainable and best tourism business practices to return our region to the robust pre-pandemic environment and beyond.