While Lao Nationals hit an all time high for travelling abroad in 2016, as previously reported by The Laotian Times, the number of foreign visitors entering Laos has dwindled after several consecutive years of visitor growth.
According to statistics provided by the Tourism Development Department of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, Laos reported an average annual growth in foreign tourist arrivals of 10.7 percent over the past five years. However, in 2016 just over 4.23 million foreign visitors came to the country – a drop of 10 percent since 2015,
Collectively, visitors from the other nine ASEAN member countries dropped by an estimated 14 percent to 3 million people. Tourists from the Asia Pacific region dropped by 11 percent to about 3.9 million people, and visitors from the Americas dropped by 3 percent to just 86,211 people.
Though the number of tourists from some regions have increased, it is marginal compared to how many visitors the country has lost overall. Visitors from Europe, and Africa and the Middle East, increased by 2 percent and 6 percent last year to 221,952 people and 11,263 people respectively.
Travellers from Thailand and Vietnam, the majority of foreign visitors to Laos, dropped significantly to just over 500,000 visitors.
An official gave several potential reasons for the decline of visitors to the country, explaining that Thailand has been encouraging their citizens to take tours in their own homeland by offering special promotions and incentives.
This includes granting Thai nationals the ability to claim a reduction on their personal income tax, equivalent to what they spent while on holiday if they spend it within the country.
Additionally, the number of foreign tourists entering Laos in previous years was boosted by Vietnamese workers entering the country on tourist visas and finding work illegally.
However, governments within ASEAN, including Laos, have been strictly enforcing measures to regulate foreign workers, which is speculated to have deterred Vietnamese workers from entering Laos, thus reflecting a decrease in the number of Vietnamese in Laos on tourist visas.
The official also brought up that the cost of living in Laos has increased and could also be a contributing factor for the vast reduction in visitors. Living costs in neighbouring countries, for example, Thailand are significantly lower than in Laos.
The official suggested that Laos should attempt to put more effort into attracting tourists from Muslim countries. By providing prayer rooms in public places along with promoting halal restaurants the country would be more welcoming to Muslim visitors if such facilities were provided, especially in the provinces.
Statistics indicate that visitors from Muslim-majority countries like Brunei and Indonesia have dropped by 44 percent and 17 percent to just 484 and 5,010 visitors respectively in 2016.
It is urged for Lao tourist authorities to do more to promote tourism in the country, starting with an official comprehensive website where all tourism-related information can be obtained. The website should include tourist attractions, transportation, accommodation, a calendar that indicates when and where a cultural festival will take place and any other related costs visitors should anticipate.
It was added that the Tourism Development Department is requesting insight from other departments regarding the decline in tourist entries in order to identify common grounds and take steps to remedy the situation.
Tour facilitators have expressed that a lack of tourist activities, underdeveloped facilities at tourist sites, and the absence of direct flights to many countries seemingly discourage tourists and are factors that need to be addressed.