Laos to Enhance Tour Guide Training to Meet Growing Tourism Demands

Laos to Enhance Tour Guide Training to Meet Growing Tourism Demands
Tourists flocking to Luang Prabang during the Lao New Year festival (photo: Laotian Times)

In response to the surge in tourism, Laos is ramping up efforts to ensure tour guides are well-equipped, as many currently lack adequate training. 

Deputy Minister of Information, Culture, and Tourism Darany Phommavongsa spearheaded discussions on this issue, highlighting the importance of preparing guides for the influx of visitors. 

A training course, scheduled from 6 May to 19 July in Vientiane Capital, will focus on imparting essential skills for guiding tourists across Laos’ key sites, blending classroom teachings with practical field exercises. Darany emphasized the critical need for proficient guides to maintain high standards and curb the unlawful practice of foreign guides taking local positions.

The primary goal of this course is to prepare tour guides to meet the increasing demands of domestic tourism. Since Laos officially reopened after the Covid-19 pandemic in May 2022, there has been a rapid increase in tourist numbers, with around 3.4 million visitors recorded in 2023 alone. Popular destinations such as Vientiane Province’s Vang Vieng, Feuang District, Luang Prabang, and Champasack Provinces have seen significant increases in visitor numbers.

Alongside this tourism growth, the sector is facing operational challenges due to a shortage of skilled workers, particularly tour guides. There is a specific lack of guides who are fluent in languages spoken by tourists from various countries, including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, English, and French, among others.

Darany stressed the necessity of maintaining high standards in the tourism sector and ensuring that trained guides meet the expected criteria. She cited concerns over the prevalence of unqualified foreign guides, which contravenes existing regulations.

“This job should be reserved solely for Lao nationals and we should not allow people from other countries to do this job. But to be successful, we must strengthen our capabilities in this domain to supply a sufficient number of qualified guides to cater to all visitors,” she said.

However, the issue of a shortage of tourism workers is a recurring challenge for the tourism industry in Laos, as discussed by several tourism experts in January 2023.

Jason Rolan, an American tourism expert based in Laos, echoed Darany’s statement while sharing his own. From Rolan’s perspective, Laos’ tour guide availability is cripplingly low during peak periods for certain markets. This seasonal polarity is a constant problem. “Historically, the high periods are extremely high, while the low periods are often very quiet,” he added.

“Specifically, for the Chinese market, there is a shortage of guides as the number of Chinese tourists visiting Laos is increasing due to improved connectivity. It’s time for the guide pool to keep up,” said Rolan.

According to the tourism expert, the shortage stemmed from the impact of Covid-19, which he described as “dealt an awful blow to the tourism industry,”  including tour guides. This global pandemic has driven numerous workers away to find work in other fields, as tourists could not visit Laos. After the pandemic subsided, many workers who left the industry did not return.

“The industry needs to find enough people to replace them and recruit more to supply certain markets which are also increasing,” added Rolan. 

Rolan attributed the challenges of recruiting new guides to limited guide training sessions, typically held only once per year and for a maximum of around 50 people. He also noted that most Lao people do not usually view tourism and hospitality jobs as stable career paths. 

With over 1.1 million foreign tourists visiting Laos in the first quarter of this year, a 36 percent increase from 2023, the demand for skilled guides is more pressing than ever. This surge is due to the ongoing Visit Laos Year campaign and the rising popularity of the Laos-China Railway, which traverses through tourist-rich provinces like Luang Prabang and Oudomxay.

Under the Visit Laos Year 2024 initiative, tourism authorities and businesses are enhancing services at accommodations, eateries, and attractions to enhance the overall visitor experience. 

As Laos gears up to host more tourists, ensuring well-trained guides is paramount. By prioritizing local talent, the country aims to not only meet but exceed visitor expectations, offering a memorable and enriching experience for all.