BANGKOK, 16 March 2021: Jens Thraenhart steps down as executive director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, effective 16 March 2021 claiming it’s for personal reasons.
Last year he extended his contract for an unprecedented fourth term (two years) that should have taken him through to 31 May 2022. His sudden resignation surprised the closely-knit community that makes up Mekong Tourism. No one saw it coming.
Thraenhart joined MTCO as its executive director in June 2014, after having served as a strategic advisor to the previous CEO. Having served three and a half two-year terms (seven years), he has been the longest-serving MTCO executive director. As for why is he is leaving the MTCO his reason might raise a few eyebrows or prompt speculation.
Thraenhart said: “While we have made tremendous progress in promoting the Greater Mekong Subregion as a single tourism destination, external factors make it increasingly difficult to do my job and carry out the mandate of the MTCO.”
There is considerable conjecture over the nature of those unnamed external factors. But a safe bet would identify the Covid-19 crisis, now entering its second year as an obvious culprit. Another clear pain point looming for anyone heading the MTCO will be the ramifications of the 1 February military coup in Myanmar that will weigh heavily on anyone who takes over the CEO post. The very fabric of Mekong Region cooperation could unravel as sanctions against Myanmar intensify, making it difficult for the MTCO CEO to sit on the fence.
But in his statement released Monday, Thraenhart opted for a non-confrontational, even mundane explanation: “I am stepping down from the MTCO for personal reasons…I want to more broadly expand my efforts to promote responsible tourism development beyond the Greater Mekong Subregion. The time is right to put into action what I have learned.”
Thraenhart is credited with establishing MTCO’s digital
offerings. MTCO’s website (MekongTourism.org) and Mekong Tourism’s engaging
social media presence have won several prestigious awards, such as the PATA
Gold Award and the HSMAI Adrian Gold Award.
The MTCO’s annual flagship event, the Mekong Tourism Forum
(MTF), was recognised by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as a global
best practice example of inclusive and responsible tourism.
He also supported the creation of the private sector framework, Destination Mekong. It aims to develop, execute, and operate various tourism initiatives. These included the award-winning Mekong Moments and Mekong Mini Movie Festival campaigns, the Experience Mekong Collection, Mekong Heroes, Mekong Trends, and the Mekong Innovations in Sustainable Tourism (MIST) programme.
The MTCO aligned the Destination Mekong initiatives to the
Mekong Tourism Marketing Plan and the Mekong Tourism Sector Strategy. The
private sector invests and owns these programmes, creating an innovative and
powerful public-private sector partnership framework.
“While we have made tremendous progress in promoting the Greater Mekong
Subregion as a single tourism destination, external factors make it
increasingly difficult to do my job and carry out the mandate of the MTCO.”
Looking back on seven years, Thraenhart said: “I would like
to thank the six governments of the Greater Mekong Subregion for their trust
and confidence placed in me in heading the prestigious and pioneering Mekong
Tourism Coordinating Office. I am proud of what we have achieved. I am deeply
honoured to have served the tourism stakeholders of the Greater Mekong
The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO), located in Bangkok, Thailand, was set up by the governments of the six Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) countries – Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.