As lackluster economic growth causes millions in China to stay home, Laos should do more to attract Vietnamese travelers for its post-pandemic tourism revival.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left Southeast Asian nations relying heavily on the return of Chinese tourists to fuel their post-pandemic economic recovery. However, recent data suggests that the flow of Chinese visitors may not reach the expected levels, dampening the region’s hopes for a tourism boom. But Laos could do more to intensify its efforts in attracting Vietnamese tourists, who show more potential amid their country’s positive outlook for economic growth in 2024.
Southeast Asia is seeing the number of Chinese tourists falling short of targets across the board, with the same trend now being observed in Laos. While Chinese tourist arrivals have historically outpaced those from Vietnam, recent trends and uncertainties indicate a need for Laos to prioritize attracting Vietnamese travelers.
In 2018, Vietnamese tourist arrivals to Laos actually surpassed those from China, while by 2019 the Chinese market grew substantially – in part due to the year being designated Visit Laos-China Year, which saw heavy promotion and extra flights. But the Covid-19 pandemic undid much of this work, seeing Chinese tourists locked away under the Zero-COVID policy.
For post-pandemic Laos, this situation calls for a proactive approach in diversifying its tourism sources. In this context, Vietnam emerges as a promising market due to its close proximity, large population, and its historically close ties. Laos would do well to tap into the potential of Vietnamese travelers to ensure a more resilient and sustainable tourism sector, regardless of the return of Chinese tourists.
But to achieve this, Laos must enhance its marketing initiatives, particularly targeting Vietnamese travelers. By developing comprehensive and tailored campaigns that highlight the country’s natural and cultural attractions, Laos can create awareness among Vietnamese tourists who may not be fully informed about the travel opportunities it offers. Promoting family-friendly experiences and appealing to wealthier travelers can further attract Vietnamese visitors who seek unique and immersive experiences.
At the same time, Laos needs to make greater efforts to improve accessibility for Vietnamese tourists, considering the long and rugged road distances and the lack of affordable flights. To achieve this, Laos could explore partnerships with Vietnamese budget airlines, demonstrating the potential profitability of direct flights between the two countries. Collaboration with government officials and tourism boards, along with offering incentives to airlines, could help overcome these obstacles and make Laos a more convenient and appealing destination for Vietnamese travelers.
It is also essential to emphasize the unique aspects of Laos that align with Vietnamese travel preferences. Sightseeing, exploring local cuisines, shopping, and visiting cultural sites are key attractions for Vietnamese tourists – and these are things Laos has in abundance. Laos can leverage its rich cultural heritage, vibrant markets, and sustainable tourism practices to provide memorable experiences for Vietnamese visitors, capturing their interest and encouraging them to choose Laos over other destinations.
As the year progresses and global travel restrictions ease, it is expected that Chinese tourists will gradually return to Southeast Asia. However, Laos should not solely rely on this expectation but rather seize the opportunity to diversify and strengthen its tourism sector by actively engaging with Vietnamese tourists. By doing so, Laos can navigate the changing tourism landscape and position itself as a compelling destination, regardless of the return of Chinese tourists, ensuring long-term growth and resilience.