Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrated for its natural beauty and cultural richness, faces a potential setback with a recent announcement by the provincial governor. On January 10, the governor revealed a substantial increase in entry fees for the area’s popular tourist attractions. This unexpected development has stirred concerns among travelers eagerly anticipating the “Visit Lao Year 2024” campaign.
As news of the fee hike spreads, the travel community awaits further clarification, casting uncertainty on the success of “Visit Lao Year 20224.”
According to the notice, the price hike is set to take effect from 1 March, affecting a total of six notorious tourist spots in the province, including Kuang Si Waterfall, Luang Prabang Museum, Sae Waterfall, Xiengthong Temple, Mount Phousi, and Ting Cave. The reason behind the new adjustment is not addressed in the announcement.
While the surge in prices for local residents has seen a modest increase, for international tourists, most of the prices have doubled.
The situation has sparked controversy, polarizing social media users into two factions. A considerable number are openly criticizing the move, labeling it “counterproductive.” This group asserts that the focus should be on simplifying travel logistics rather than adding complexity. On the flip side, there is a group of users that sees the change as a pragmatic strategy, citing the country’s escalating inflation rate as a factor justifying the decision.
“It’s ironic how the government aims to attract international tourists but ends up increasing prices significantly,” one Facebook user who disagreed with the decision commented.
“Given the current high inflation rate and the depreciation of our currency, I believe the price increase is reasonable,” said another user who found the change appropriate.
The most recent inflation report released by the Lao Statistics Bureau indicates that the inflation rate in December 2023 was limited to 24.4 percent, marking a significant decline from the 40.30 percent recorded in January of the same year. Despite this considerable decrease, a number of residents remain skeptical about the accuracy of the inflation reports, as the cost of goods continues to remain high, comparable to the levels seen during the period of elevated inflation.
Apart from the price hike, the majority also raised concern about the state of the roads in some of the tourist spots, especially the ones that lead to the Kuang SI waterfall, noting that instead of focusing on increasing the entry fee, the province should also put their effort into repairing the roads that have long been deteriorated.
Last year’s Logistics Capacity Assessments (LCA) revealed that only 28 percent of the country’s roads are paved, with over 60 percent of national roads in poor or bad condition. To tackle this issue, the government aims to improve technical standards and expand the number of weighing stations countrywide. Currently, there are only 14 operational weighing stations, serving as checkpoints to monitor heavily loaded trucks and ensure they comply with weight limits.
Despite all the longstanding challenges, Luang Prabang managed to attract a total of 779,811 visitors in the first nine months of 2023 compared to the same period in the previous year, with domestic tourists accounting for 177,596 of the total figures. With its ambitious five-year goal, Luang Prabang is aiming to draw 4 million visitors by 2025. From 2021 until June 2023, around 1.1 million tourists visited the province.