Oudomxay’s improving infrastructure supporting rural communities’ road to sustainable tourism

Oudomxay province is one of the most beautiful places in Laos. Located in the upper north and rich in hidden valleys and evergreen forests, it is a place where you can experience untouched nature as well as a fascinating way of life.
Unfortunately, a lack of basic infrastructure in the past made the province elusive to most visitors. Another challenge is that infrastructure still does not access all communities, especially roads and clean water systems. In addition, most people are still poor and don’t have stable jobs.
But this is slowly changing according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which has supported Laos’ tourism development since 2002 with assistance amounting to US$107.9 million (a US$50.9 million loan and US$57 million grant) for four projects.

A potter makes some small flower vases and terracotta products in Yor village.

The Mekong Tourism Development Project was first implemented from 2003-2008, followed by the GMS Sustainable Tourism Development Project from 2008-2016 and the GMS Tourism Infrastructure for Inclusive Growth Project from 2015-2020, and the last one is being implemented from this month.
These projects have helped develop new tourism sites; improve tourism infrastructure and facilities; improve environmental services and tourist amenities in cross-border tourism centres, and strengthened institutional capacities to promote inclusive tourism.
These have created business opportunities for and improved the quality of livelihoods of the projects’ beneficiaries and people living around the project areas.
Recently, Vientiane Times visited an ADB-financed tourism project in Xay and Baeng districts, Oudomxay province.
The project began in 2008 in Baeng district under the name “GMS Sustainable Tourism Development Project” with a grant of US$10 million which covered nine provinces. It was the second phase of ADB projects and ended in 2016.
Phase III has been implemented since 2015 in Xay district under the name “GMS Tourism Infrastructure for Inclusive Growth Project”, with a loan of US$40 million in the provinces of Oudomxay, Luang Prabang, Khammuan and Champassak. This phase will end in 2020.
The main objective of the project is to promote sustainable tourism in the lower Mekong basin through infrastructure improvements, community and private sector participation, and sub-regional cooperation.
Improved infrastructure will assist tourism and livelihoods with increased employment through more job opportunities.
Country Director Lao PDR Resident Mission Asian Development Bank, Mr Yasushi Negishi, told Vientiane Times the main aim of the project is to improve local people’s lives through activities concerned with tourism services and promoting the conservation of natural and cultural heritage.
Yor village in Baeng district is one local community that has benefited from Phase II of the project.
Mr Negishi said the project not only improves tourism destinations but also helps to bolster livelihoods and the quality of people’s lives around project areas.
The project has provided small-scale infrastructure investments to enable mostly rural poor people to develop community-based tourism, community-managed tourist attractions, and supply chain products.
There are many families in the village that have transformed themselves from farmers to potters, weavers and opening their houses to homestay services. They are now earning more money from these tourism services with the number of visitors increasing each year.
ADB projects have also provided training in using modern techniques in their work, microenterprise management, and making new products to attract visitors as well as strengthening capacities to promote inclusive tourism.
In addition, the project provided a community market and a small cultural centre in a new resettlement village.
Chief of Yor village, Mr Maichanauan Chanthavong, said the project has created many benefits, especially allowing villagers to earn more money.
“For the project, we divided into five groups to generate around 39 million kip per month for our village. This includes pottery making which earns 12 million kip per month, bamboo and rattan weaving gets more than 4 million kip, textile weaving makes 8 million kip, homestays generate over 2 million kip, and community market groups receive 12 million kip per month,” he said.
Phase III of the project is ongoing to improve tourism infrastructure in Chom Ong village in Xay district.
The project is improving over 40km of road running from the provincial capital to Chom Ong cave in Xay district as well as the facilities around the site.
Chitchareune Construction Co., Ltd. agreed with the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism in November last year to undertake the project with work expected to be complete in February 2020. The project is being funded by the Asian Development Bank at a cost of more than 108 billion kip (US$13 million).
The company will also build other facilities including a 4,000 square metre parking area, public toilets, six shops, an exhibition room, power lines to carry electricity, and lighting inside the cave.
Chief of Chom Ong village, Mr Bounlieng Tongmanixay, said that in the past transport was quite difficult, especially in the rainy season because the road is very narrow and rough.
“We are very happy and would like to give a million thanks to the ADB projects and government along with provincial authorities for the assistance,” he said.
The expectation is that the completed road will bring more domestic and international visitors to the cave and allow local people to earn more income.
Mr Negishi said the project would also provide training to local communities about the benefits of developing tourism along and preserving their culture and customs while generating job opportunities.
The nation’s tourism sector needed to upgrade its services to international standards to attract more foreign tourists, he added.

By Lamphone Pasanthong
(Latest Update December 28, 2018

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