The Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism hosted a forum on Monday to discuss preparations underway for the arrival of Chinese tourists.
The meeting, a public-private sector dialogue, was presided over by the Deputy Minister of Information of Culture, Mr. Ounthouang Khaophan. The event saw discussion on the country’s readiness for a potential influx of Chinese tourists, with comments from various stakeholders from the private sector and government authorities.
Head of the Lao Hotel and Restaurant Association, Mr. Pakasith Chanthapanya, Co-Founder and Partner of EXO Travel Lao, Ms. Douangmala Phommavong, Senior Partner of RDK Group, Jason Rolan, and other tourism industry leaders were present at the meeting.
China was one of Laos’ most significant markets for tourism before the Covid-19 pandemic, with 1,022,727 tourists arriving in the country in 2019, according to the Tourism Development Department. This number made up some 20 percent of the total number of tourism arrivals in Laos that year.
But many have raised concerns about a shortage of skilled and unskilled workers in the tourism and hospitality sector. Participants at Monday’s meeting discussed the possibility of a short-term wage hike for entry-level workers to encourage them to return to work in their own country.
The meeting heard that the acute labor shortage being reported across Laos, particularly in the service sector, could lead to unsatisfying tourist experiences and a potential short-term loss of reputation for the country.
The meeting also discussed concerns about zero-dollar tourism in Laos (at night markets, museums, and palaces), as well as the possibility of over-tourism, affecting the customer experience for other visitors.
Despite inflationary and other economic pressures, the meeting called on the travel industry not to increase prices for short-term benefit.
Meanwhile, continued issues with ticketing for the Laos-China Railway were raised, with a representative of the Laos-China Railway Company present at the meeting to answer questions. While the railway company did not state when its ticketing mobile application will be fully functional, or when the railway will be able to cross the border into China, it did say that seventeen travel companies have expressed interest in becoming ticketing agents.
Representatives from the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism spoke of the government’s efforts to improve roads, toilets, and national tourism sites, as well as add Chinese language to signs in tourist areas.
The Ministry is also considering marketing strategies for the Chinese market, especially familiarization (FAM) trips for Chinese media. Airlines and railways will increase the frequency of routes and trips to Chinese cities, pending the latter’s government approval.
For its part, the Ministry of Health will open more RT-PCR testing centers (now only in Vientiane Capital) for Chinese and Indian travelers who require negative test results before boarding their flight back home.
Ms. Douangmala proposed in the meeting that although the government should be aware of Chinese post-pandemic consumer preferences and changing trends and paradigms, they should also strive to provide the finest service “à la laotienne” to a wide range of visitors.
With labor shortages and some infrastructure-related challenges, Laos may not yet be ready to welcome a flurry of Chinese visitors. However, the country is already working at addressing various hurdles with the aim of providing services to the best of its ability to all types of tourists from every country in the world.
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