Tourism developments should comply with the law

All tourist site developments must comply with zoning laws so that investment avenues for investors remain transparent and the natural environment is protected.
Zoning laws are there to provide an orderly path for investors and concessionaires to follow. They are also there to make sure new infrastructure doesn’t destroy or damage existing ecosystems.
Last week, the Deputy Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr Savankhone Razmountry, and his team made an unofficial visit to Tha Falang in Khammuan province.
The group enjoyed a very relaxing time by the river.  They found the landscape beautiful and the atmosphere of the town welcoming. 
Many in the group, however, were not happy when they saw the steel bridge that is being constructed across the Nam Don river.  The bridge is in a protected zone right above a popular swimming hole.
The bridge is part of a new development in Thakhaek district, between Thock-Nayor and Songkhone villages.  It opened last month, ahead of its official opening scheduled for later on in the year. It is 10 km from Thakhaek town.
KK Transport and Service Company was authorised by Khammuan provincial authorities to develop the site.  
Commenting on the new bridge, the Director of the Tourism Planning and Development Division of the Tourism Development Department, Mr Somxay Sipaseuth, said “This type of bridge shouldn’t have been built here because it detracts from the beauty of the setting. Plans for its construction should have been discussed properly with tourism authorities, to look at alternatives. A cable bridge, over a different section of the river, would have been far more appropriate.”
The Tourism Law designates three types of zones for development: conservation areas, reserved areas and tourism services areas. Mr Somxay said that in his opinion the bridge should not have been allowed to go ahead because it is in a zone where the natural environment is protected.
KK Transport and Service Company CEO, Mr Khambee Lattanavong, told Vientiane Times “We built the steel bridge as part of a larger development of accommodation and picnic zones on both sides of the river. The bridge will be a vantage point from which to take photos of the river and hills. The bridge is not big, which is why we didn’t have a major consultation about it. And besides, it’s in our concession area.”
Mr Khambee said the company has permission to build 20 bungalows by the river. This means an additional 12 structures will be built as they already had possession of eight others.
There are also 30 camping pitches available for hire. While small and medium sized groups are already staying there, Mr Khambee said accommodation will be ready in March to house large tour bookings.
Deputy Head of the Information, Culture and Tourism Department in Khammuan province, Mr Bounthavy Sisombat, said the company’s development project underwent a feasibility study in 2017 and received a concession for five hectares of land in the latter part of 2018.
“The department knows the importance of protecting the environment and follows due process in considering development applications. Feasibility studies are our guide when it comes to environmental protection. We expect every development to comply with environmental protection laws,” he said.
Mr Bounthavy added that the company would employ local food producers.  It will also provide kayaks and other activities centred on the river.
“The company is also funding a paved, asphalt road to the site, with the help of some funds from the province,” he noted.
The name Tha Falang is a remnant of the colonial era.  It is in a location which the French frequented for swimming.  Locals often found the antics of the foreigners playing in the water amusing, and the location gained some notoriety as a place where French people went to relax.  Hence, the name ‘Tha Falang’ came into being.
Mr Somxay said that in the future he plans to develop a star-based standard system for compliance with zoning laws.
It remains to be seen how well the authorities and the company coordinate to ensure this present development complies with the Law on Tourism.
Developers need to be mindful of the environment they are working in and ensure areas of natural beauty remain unspoiled at all times.

By Times Reporters
(Latest Update January 28, 2019)

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