UPDATED on 26 January at 4:36 PM (GMT+7)
Luxury hotels and resorts in Laos, particularly in Luang Prabang Province, are raising concerns over tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid debts by Focus Asia, a prominent destination management company. Despite years of collaboration and trust-building, the company has allegedly failed to honor financial commitments made to its hospitality partners in Laos.
Sources suggest that the company currently owes upwards of USD 40,000 to more than 20 different hotels in Luang Prabang, including notable establishments such as Le Bel Air (USD 11,264), Villa Malay Boutique (USD 5,399), The Luang Say Lodge and Vat Phou Cruises (USD 12,652), and The Grand Luang Prabang (USD 3,810).
Established in 2009, Focus Asia solidified credit lines with various luxury hotels in Luang Prabang, allowing the company to manage expenses for tour groups visiting the area. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck Laos in early 2020, forcing the closure of tourist hotspots and halting international travel, the hospitality industry faced unprecedented challenges. As borders shut down and tourism ground to a halt, Focus Asia, like many other operators, sought to postpone payments to its hotel and restaurant partners.
“At this time, Focus Asia will need to delay paying any invoices from previous tours for the time being. However, our business is still alive. We are not closing any of our offices, and our operation will continue as usual. We have several projects in the pipeline, and once the business returns, Focus Asia and our sister companies shall be ready. As soon as the situation improves, we start again with our payments as usual,” read a letter titled Focus Asia Group – Letter to Suppliers ALL Countries, signed by Executive Board Member Marc Seiver on 19 March 2020.
However, despite the resumption of activities, Focus Asia allegedly failed to pay.
We have all been badly affected by Covid crisis and are inclined to support each other by offering payment flexibility to our partners, as long as we maintain transparent communication, which in this case they failed to do,” Baptiste Cabarry, General Manager of Villa Malay Boutique in Luang Prabang, told The Laotian Times.
Reports indicate that despite financial constraints, Focus Asia continued its marketing endeavors and even launched new ventures during the pandemic, neglecting overdue payments to local businesses.
“Focus Asia has never answered any of our emails or phone calls, either from the Lao branch or their head office in Vietnam. We knew however they were receiving clients as we contacted them on an alternative email account and pretended to be guests in search of a tour organizer (in this case, we have received their answer),” Cabarry explained.
“Despite these financial challenges, Focus Asia continued their marketing efforts and even developed new brands during the pandemic, indicating that they were utilizing funds – which rightfully belonged to others – for promotional activities,” said Thatsanyvanh Luanglath, another hotel owner and operator in Champasack and Oudomxay Province.
Efforts by hotel owners and operators to reach out to Focus Asia have reportedly gone unanswered, with communication abruptly ceasing. The situation exacerbated when Focus Asia terminated its operations on 25 November, 2021, only to be succeeded by Travel Indochina Lao Co., Ltd, a new enterprise operated by Mark Seiver, established on 5 July, 2022.
Despite mounting grievances from local businesses, Focus Asia was spotted participating in the ASEAN Tourism Forum 2024 at ITECC Mall in Vientiane Capital, Laos, drawing criticism for its apparent disregard for outstanding debts.
“The way the situation is portrayed is completely different from what has been posted. With many suppliers, Focus Asia already has payment agreements in place. I would also like to point out the fact that, although I am responding on behalf of Focus Asia, I am and was never legally involved in this company. Travel Indochina has a completely different ownership and is legally owned by completely different people who were never involved with each other.” Marc Sievert said in response to the allegations. “By all fairness, we are speaking to many suppliers and have agreements in place. Basically, saying that we are masking behind something different is not true.”
Amid growing concerns, Jerome Trichard, Managing Director of Mekong Cruises, urged caution when dealing with Focus Asia, emphasizing the importance of informed decision-making in light of the company’s financial liabilities.
“Let’s ensure that people are informed about the potential risks associated with engaging with Focus Asia Travel Agency,” he said.
The Laotian Times will continue to monitor developments in this story.