While considerable local and international attention have been focused on the arrival of Chinese tourists to Laos, another tourist group, Koreans, are bringing much needed foreign currency into the country.
In recent years, Laos has experienced a tremendous rise in the number of Korean tourists making them the fourth largest group of foreign tourists coming to Laos (behind Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese). It has been observed that travelers from Korea prefer primarily to take holidays in the central and northern parts of Laos, electing to spend most of their time in the capital city of Vientiane, Vang Vieng, and Luang Prabang.
Since the broadcast of a reality TV show shot in Vang Vieng in 2014, Koreans of all ages have descended on the town every year. It is no wonder that hotels like Riverside Boutique Resort would look for Korean-speaking interns. A few years back, Koreans made up 42% of his guests.
However, the majority of Koreans hardly visit the southern part of Laos, which also boasts a large number of scenic and cultural charms.
Korean Ambassador to Laos, Shin Sung Soon has mentioned the need for more advertising to be done to promote the attractions of the southern provinces of Champasak and Attapeu, so that Koreans would know more about these areas and want to visit them. He also said that if southern attractions were more developed and advertised, they could become an attractive option for Koreans enticing more and more of the latter to come.
“The cooperation between Laos and the Republic of Korea on tourism is very impressive as last year witnessed more than 170,000 Koreans visiting Laos and more than 10,000 Lao people visiting Korea,” said the ambassador.
Thanks to the Lao government’s visa-free entry policy for Koreans for stays of up to 15 days, it is now substantially easier for Koreans to view Laos as viable holiday destination.
Apart from the favorable state initiative, there are currently five daily direct flights between Laos and Korea. This has also spurred an increase in the number of visitors. Five direct flights a day is considerable compared to the two daily flights between Korea and Vietnam and even more astounding when compared to the six flights a day between Korea and Thailand, which is a regional hub for air travel.
With Korea’s Incheon International Airport being a regional transit hub, Ambassador Shin said direct flights to this airport help connect Laos with many parts of the world, further boosting foreign tourist arrivals.
To encourage more Koreans to stay longer in Laos, the ambassador said the visa-free stay should be extended, pointing out that 15 days was insufficient for backpackers.
“The 15-day visa exemption is adequate for people coming to Laos as part of a tour group, but it’s not long enough for independent travellers,” Ambassador Shin said, adding that backpackers were likely to need more time to explore Laos.
He added that he would ask the government to consider extending the visa exemption period from 15 to 30 days.
Economists at the National Economic Research Institute say Laos faces various obstacles in its bid to increase tourist arrivals to meet targets, including the target set for 2018, even though the country is running the Visit Laos Year 2018 promotional drive.
The government has set a goal of attracting 5.2 million international visitors, with the revenue target figure set at approximately US$910 million. But there are major challenges to meeting the targets, the institute said in its latest outlook.
The main obstacles include limited promotional advertising, high cost of general services and living costs, and lack of tourism products. Poor basic infrastructure, especially road access to tourist sites, is another drawback.
Laos has experienced a dip in foreign tourist arrivals in recent years even as other countries in the region such as Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia are experiencing substantial growth, according to the outlook, which underlined the need for Laos to work hard to tackle the challenges.