Laos drops visa for Koreans

VIENTIANE, 14 September 2018: Lao PDR has extended visa-free travel to South Korean visitors for up to 30 days.

According to Laotian Times, the visa-free privilege became effective 1 September following an announcement of the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) 30 August.

The government hopes visa-free travel will help reverse the negative trend in tourist arrivals that has plagued the country’s fledging tourism industry for two years.

In 2016 foreign visitor arrivals declined 9.8% to reach 4.23 million and in 2017 the total slumped to 3.86 million, representing a decline of 8.7%.

However, the Lao PDR government’s forecast suggested the Visit Year 2018 promotion could reverse that trend Officials believe a 5.2 million target remains within reach.  Revenue would rise to USD910 million up from USD648 million in 2017.

The last quarter of the Visit Laos Year 2018 promotion is also approaching after it was launched in October 2017 at ITB Berlin. It will require a very positive last quarter in tourist arrivals to save face for those who tabled the optimistic 2018 predictions.

The official tourism year will close with New Year countdown festivities. However, the promotion lacked “visit year” specific events and instead relied on the traditional festivals, many of them linked to the country’s Buddhist calendar, that are held on an annual basis.

Despite the setbacks in tourism over the last two years a Fitch Solutions economic forecast still claims a 6.8% GDP growth is possible for the period 2018 to 2020.

The Laotian Times’ report quoted government statistics that showed 170,571 visitors travelled to Laos from South Korea last year. That was a 2% decline on 2016 when visits reached 173,260.

Most Korean tourists visited Vientiane and then travelled overland to Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.

Offering South Koreans up to 30 days in the country will encourage them to explore other destinations, official said.

The country’s tourism industry argues that standard 15-day visa-free stay is counter productive as exploring secondary destinations and natural attractions require a much longer stay. The average stay for international travellers is 8.3 days and for travellers from neighbouring countries (regional) just two days.

Travellers from ASEAN countries can visit visa-free for up to 15 days. The same rule applies to visitors from Scandinavia, Japan, Russia, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Meanwhile, tourism planners put considerable stock in China’s rail project that could bring thousands of Chinese tourists to destinations in North Laos including Luang Prabang.

A Fitch Solutions’ report states the Laos’ section of the Kunming-Singapore high-speed rail from Kunming to Vientiane will cost close to USD6 billion, representing more than a third of Laos’ annual GDP.

Fitch concludes that  “construction of the 409 km railway broke ground in December 2016 and this propelled the nation’s industrial growth to 18.0% in 2017, from 8.4% in 2016. It was reported last March that the railway project was 30% completed, with a deadline set for December 2021.”

(Source: Laotian Times/Fitch Solutions)