Laos faces tourism setback

VIENTIANE, 14 December: Laos will close its “Visit Laos Year 2018 promotion well short of the 5 million tourist arrivals target according to officials quoted by the Vientiane Times.

According to the report, posted last Friday, the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Bosengkham Vongdara, presented a year-end forecast to the National Assembly’s ongoing sixth ordinary session.

His assessment placed annual visitor arrivals at around 4 million for the year, down a million on the ambitious Visit Laos Year target.Blame was placed firmly at the door of natural disasters that caused massive damage in many provinces and a tourism slowdown from neighbouring countries.

But the Visit Year organisers should accept some of the blame for hasty planning and a failure to introduce Visit Year specific events that would have attracted more interest from international travel markets.

Instead, the Visit Year promotion unfolded with very little to show in terms of online promotions in important source markets, specific incentives for tour operators, projects to raise air connectivity and new Visit Year specific events or festivals.

In the long-term the country’s tourism development and the rollout of infrastructure projects, such as roads, was hampered by a lack of funding, Vientiane Times reported.

Laos is planning to introduce easier visa services during 2019 including an online eVisa facility similar to the highly successful Myanmar model.

But more needs to be done to encourage airlines to fly to Laos and overland routes need to be improved.  Security on the popular Vientiane-Luang Prabang route needs to be significantly upgraded.

Foreign travel advisories still warn travellers to fly between the two top tourist destinations rather than go overland, a distance of just under 400 km.

Next year, the ministry says it will focus on increasing travel from China under a planned Visit Laos-China Year 2019 campaign, but again there is a lack of information on specific projects involved in the promotion.

However, travel industry sources in Laos say the emphasis should be on introducing more direct air links and establishing incentives to support up-market Chinese tour operators to create new itineraries at the top end of the market.

They claim the year-long China promotion should focus entirely on encouraging travel by individuals and families rather than low-priced, high volume tour groups.

But the official word is that the ministry will cooperate with Chinese authorities to launch colourful activities as well as improve the quality of hotels and restaurants.

The Lao government has set a target to increase Chinese visits from 400,000 to 1 million and by doing so the 5 million target would be reached by the end of 2019.

More than 2.9 million leisure trips were logged in the first nine months of this year, an increase of 3.2% over last year, according to the Tourism Development Department, Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.

Thailand up until the end of October welcomed just over 31 million tourists, an increase of 8.34%, while 14.1 million tourist visited Vietnam, up to the end of November representing an increase of 21.3%. Cambodia is heading for slightly more than 6.1 million visits this year.