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Asean tourism ministers report impact of COVID-19

Tourism ministers of Asean member countries reported the effects of COVID-19 on the sector as well as shared ideas to seek solutions during a special video conference on Wednesday.
The ministers in each country detailed the impact of the pandemic on their tourism sectors and consulted on multiplying cooperation to build confidence and restore the regional travel industry to normal.

Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Prof. Dr Kikeo Khaykhamphithoune reported that 886,440 domestic and foreign visitors holidayed in Laos during the first three months of this year, down 17 percent compared to the same period last year.
All parts of the local tourism industry were affected by the pandemic, including hotels, re-sorts and guesthouses, tour companies, and the nation’s many tourist sites. In addition, many major events have been cancelled or postponed such as the Lao New Year festival (Pi Mai Lao), the planned celebration of Hai Hin (Plain of Jars) being listing as a world heritage site and the National Games in Xieng Khuang province, he added.
“As of today, we have recorded 19 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Laos, seven cases have been discharged from hospital, leaving 12 cases remaining in the country. But the risk of a widespread and severe outbreak still exists,” the minister told the video conference.
The Lao government has stepped up its prevention and containment measures in line with the evolving situation in the country, region and globally and with the WHO’s guidelines including establishing the National Prevention, Control and Response Task-Force Committee for COVID-19 led by the Deputy Prime Minister.
Other initiatives include raising public awareness countrywide about the dangers of COVID-19 and how to prevent, respond to and contain the virus.
A mandatory lockdown has been imposed from April 1 and extended until May 3. All local, customary and international border checkpoints have been closed for individuals, except for health emergencies, charter flights and authorised transportation of goods.
The issuing of all types of visas, including visa-on-arrival, e-visa as well as tourist visas, for all nationalities, has been suspended. 
A 14-day quarantine was also designated for inbound travellers from high-risk countries, including Lao migrant workers and students returning home, according to the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. During the meeting, participants approved the Declaration on Joint Statement of the Asean Tourism Ministers on Strengthening Cooperation to Revitalise Asean Tourism.  Conse-quently, each Asean country member will be able to implement a restoration plan after COVID-19 is under control, as well as carry out joint tourism advertising and promote Asean package tours.
The tourism sector is one of the region’s main economic drivers with incomes and employment struck by the pandemic. The meeting called for the strengthening of Asean coordinat-ing mechanisms and other initiatives to address the challenges faced by the tourism sector.
Tourism earnings of more than US$450,000 were lost in the first two months of this year after visitor arrivals from China and Thailand - Laos’ main markets - dropped by 16 and 5 percent respectively, according to the National Economic Research Institute.
Due to the impact of the pandemic, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is projected to grow at just 3.3 percent in 2020. The latest forecast is half the growth rate of 6.5 percent projected in the 2020 socio-economic development plan with the virus outbreak hitting critical drivers of the economy, including tourism.
Laos had 637 hotels, 2,283 guesthouses and resorts, 2,679 restaurants and 240 entertainment venues, according to a 2019 report from the Tourism Development Department, Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.

By Times Reporters
(Latest Update April 30, 2020)

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