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Tourism industry takes stock of lessons learnt during Visit Laos Year 2018

Authorities are looking at ways to address issues that were identified during Visit Laos Year 2018 in order to improve conditions for tourists during Visit Laos-China Year 2019.
Visitor arrivals topped 4.1 million in 2018, up 8.2 percent compared to 2017, according to statistics from the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.

Visitor numbers from Asean countries in particular were up, including from Thailand, with almost 2 million Thais visiting Laos, an increase of 7 percent over 2017.
More than 800,000 tourists came from China, an increase of 26 percent, while more than 174,000 South Koreans visited - an increase of 2 percent.
But while visitor numbers increased, the total number overall fell short of the government’s target of 5 million for 2018.
An official in charge, who asked not to be named, told Vientiane Times yesterday that one of the reasons the target was missed was because in previous years the number of tourists had been artificially inflated. This was because many people had entered Laos on tourist visas but were in fact workers.
After the government took steps to regulate foreign workers it is believed that the number of people entering Laos from neighbouring counties decreased.
If people enter Laos on a tourist visa but take up jobs here they will bump up tourist numbers but will not contribute to tourism revenue because they are not spending money at tourist attractions or on other purchases, the official said.
Speaking at the National Assembly at the end of last year, Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Prof. Dr Bosengkham Vongdara, also attributed the visitor shortfall to other causes.
He blamed the floods that occurred in the rainy season, along with inadequate tourist facilities and poor road access to tourist sites.
The minister also cited inadequate air transport, the slow development of tourist attractions, and slow service at immigration points.
And although authorities have made attempts to improve tourist attractions, some issues still remain, he added.
Tour operators also cited difficulties encountered during Visit Laos Year 2018. These included the cost of tickets to visit popular attractions such as the Khonphapheng Falls, temples, and expensive plane fares, as well as poor service by immigration officials.
Some said services in hotels were not up to standard, roads leading to tourist sites were in poor condition, and the areas and roads around tourist sites were messy, especially in the rainy season.
They also said the authorities should look further ahead when planning tourism promotions, pointing out that Visit Laos Year 2018 was not announced sufficiently ahead of time for visitors to learn about it and plan visits.
There were also complaints about conditions in Vangvieng, where visitors were asked to pay to cross bridges to get to various places, as well as being charged to park a vehicle, hire a hut to sit in and even pay for mats.
However, the ministry, in cooperation with Chinese athorities, is planning to improve the quality of hotels and restaurants at tourist hotspots. 
The ministry is also working with Information, Culture and Tourism Departments across the country to improve service standards in anticipation of the influx of Chinese tourists this year, Prof. Dr Bosengkham told the National Assembly.

By Siladda Souliyong
(Latest Update January 17, 2019)

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