More teamwork needed to drive Lao tourism development

The number of visitor arrivals in Laos may not reach the target set for this year despite the government’s best efforts to promote Visit Laos Year 2018.
According to a report from the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, Laos expects the number of tourist arrivals to reach 5 million this year, however, over the first six months of 2018, the country welcomed less than 2 million visitors. It is now highly possible the nation will not achieve the annual tourist arrival target.
While many people are blaming the tourism sector for the country’s faltering efforts to lure tourists, in my opinion for Laos to achieve the annual arrivals target all sectors must work together as a strong team to impress international visitors. This will make visitors want to come back and tell their family members, friends, and colleagues to travel to Laos.
This claim is based on the perspective that the tourism sector’s development is not just about having good tourist sites, professional guides and travel agents and tourism promotion, but also about reasonably priced and delicious food, access to tourism facilities and, the most important thing of all, warm hospitality by the host nation.
Based on this perspective, I strongly suggest that every concerned sector should cooperate with the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism so that it will be able to be in a position to attract more tourists and achieve the arrival numbers this year.
Recently, I had a frank discussion with travel agents and they said one of the major barriers to tourism development is that many officials do not understand the concept of warm hospitality and security. Therefore, each of them works without close effective cooperation.
According to the travel agents, one example was security officials imposing a strict rule that each travel agency must inform them about its travel schedule, especially where and when they plan to take tourists. Travel agents who fail to comply with this rule or follow their proposed travel plans may be fined.
It is understandable that security officials are concerned about the safety of tourists and they want to deploy forces to protect them. However, this has caused many problems for tourism operators and displeased visitors.
The key issue is that it cannot be predicted whether tourists will change their mind or their vehicles could break down or there could be various incidents that force tour companies to change travel plans and they are unable to update security officials about the new travel plan.
The best way to balance security issues with warm hospitality for visitors is for security officials to determine if any tourist sites are insecure and close them to local and international tourists.
Low-risk tourist sites should be open to all visitors and it is up to them to decide which place to go to that are not on the banned list. This will make tourists feel more secure while visiting Laos.
I think tourists will feel uncomfortable is they see officials following their every step. This will indicate that Laos is not a secure place as security officials must escort tourists all the time.
An alternative view is that if security officials don’t monitor the movements of tourists, who would be held responsible for any incident faced by them. This is a logical argument but the fact is it is impossible for travel officials to take responsibility for the investigation of any incident, as it is the job of security officials.
Of course, travel officials must do their utmost to protect tourists from physical harm or loss of property. However, it is not their job to investigate incidents or to take on the duty of finding the lost property of tourists. This job belongs to security forces. The job of the travel officials should be to take tourists to the places they want to visit and provide the best services in accordance with professionalism and the code of conduct laid down in laws and related regulations.
To address this kind of tourism barrier, there is a need for relevant officials to work together as a team in order to provide the best service to visiting tourists.
In a nutshell, in order to encourage more tourists to visit Laos, not only must the tourism officials be active but they need support from relevant sectors. This includes security officials who need to change the way they perform their duties, from controlling the travel of tourists to facilitating it. The warm hospitality and impressions of foreign tourists will give a major boost to the country achieving arrival numbers.
By Ekaphone Phouthonesy, a journalist at Vientiane Times with more than a decade of reporting experience and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Flinders University, Australia. Comments, questions, suggestions or opinion contributions, please Email:ekaphouthonesy@gmail.com

By Ekaphone Phouthonesy
(Latest Update October 02, 2018)


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