Laos pushes its river tourism

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Laos is pushing ahead with plans to develop its tourism industry, including the river cruise sector, to capitalise on the expected surge of holiday makers in the ASEAN region.

This was disclosed by the Lao Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, Vice Minister Chaleune Warinthrasak who said that government and the private sector must work together to develop, natural, cultural and heritage tourism ahead of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) launch later this year.

Speaking at the 16th Lanith Symposium held in Vientianne on July 31, he told about 70 tourism delegates: ”To compete in the AEC, we need to aim for quality tourists by increasing marketing and promotion and our efforts in human capital development. The government and private sector will also continue to engage in product development.’’

ASEAN Secretariat representative Eddy Kresmedi, a keynote speaker at the Lanith Symposium said that Laos must work with the private sector to develop new tourism products and regional packages.

“It is imperative that the private sector be closely involved in selecting and developing tourism products as well as in identifying three-country regional packages for promotion on aseantourism.travel.’’

Besides natural, cultural and heritage tourism sites, Laos should also focus on community-based tourism projects and the river cruise sector which has great potential for the country.

He conceded the current need for multiple visas was impeding cross-border tourism in the region.

Another keynote speaker, the division of Tourism Development director, Somxay Sipaseuth said that the country lacked skilled labour and needed to focus on six areas – developing homestays, clean tourist cities, green hotels, public toilets, community-based tourism and spas.

“Natural tourism sites are Laos’ top priority but we are also heavily focusing on cultural and heritage products led by three UNESCO World Heritage sites, homestays, handicrafts and river tours,’’ he said.

He said that not only must Laos increase expenditure on tourism projects, it has to ensure that they meet ASEAN standards.

TripAdvisor ASEAN Markets Manager, Matthew Zatto said: “Travel is still growing here, whereas more experienced Western travellers are willing to spend more on tourism. Once ASEAN tourists are experienced, like Singapore travellers, their expeditures will grow.’’

Over the last 10 years, tourism numbers in Laos has been growing rapidly with visitor arrivals up 10 per cent to 4.2 million in 2014. Earnings from tourism reached US$641 million last year. There has also been gradual improvements in infrastructure and the number of registered hotels reached 515 in 2014 – up from 49 the previous year.