Handling Luang Prabang with Care

 

As Luang Prabang grows as a tourist destination, it faces many challenges in remaining a green destination. Some have termed the current situation in Luang Prabang as “fragile”. In 2016, the Lao German Development Cooperation Project (GIZ) began implementing the “Handle with Care” project, funded by the European Union’s Switch Asia Programme. The project has reached the halfway mark, and We Are Lao wanted to know how the project is proceeding. The Handle with Care team granted this exclusive interview to update the public on the project.

What are the specific objectives of the Handle with Care project, and why is this necessary?

The specific objectives is to improve the sustainable consumption and production of tourism (SCP) in the Luang Prabang tourism industry, i.e. switch to a more sustainable and green way of consuming and providing tourism and hospitality goods and services. We believe this project is necessary and important, because Luang Prabang is quite a fragile destination in light of increasing pressures from emerging mass tourism on culture and the environment. With the exemplary solutions the Luang Prabang Handle with Care project is putting on the agenda, we can contribute to safeguarding the destination and making sure emerging mass tourism does not destroy the uniqueness of the heritage town.

Who is funding it and who is involved in implementing it?

The Luang Prabang Handle with Care project is funded by the European Union – Switch Asia Programme. This is a special regional fund encouraging promotion of sustainable consumption and production in Asia. The Lao German Development Cooperation project on Regional Economic Integration of Lao PDR into the ASEAN, Trade and Entrepreneurship Development (RELATED) submitted a project proposal with intention to encourage and apply sustainable practices in the tourism sector in Luang Prabang. The Luang Prabang Handle with Care Project is thus implemented by GIZ for the EU. This funding line supports switching from a regular practices of consumption and production to a much sustainable practices, or Green Growth economic approach. This includes supporting approaches to circular economy, that produces less waste, uses less energy and has a lower carbon footprint. It also includes social issues of fair work conditions and protecting local cultures.

When was the project launched, and what has it accomplished to date?

The project has been launched in May 2016. The first half of the project focused on issues that have been important for Lao PDR as it chaired the ASEAN in 2016. ASEAN Standards are a priority for the Ministry of Information Culture and Tourism. 5 ASEAN standards have been conceptualised, key trainings held, and the local awareness towards implementation has been supported. Based on the support of the project, Luang Prabang is preparing to apply for the ASEAN Clean Tourist City Standard and the ASEAN Sustainable Tourism Awards in the upcoming ASEAN Tourism Forum in 2018.  The project in its effort to lay the foundation for promoting sustainable tourism products has supported the institutionalisation of tourism promotion, esp. with the ITB Asia in 2016 and 2017. The unique representation of Laos as a sustainable tourism destination has gained popularity.

In the last third of implementation we have thoroughly planned to deliver excellent results for our partners. In 2017 we switched to the more local initiatives, e.g. by setting up our complete team in Luang Prabang from Q1/2017. This includes supporting the private sector in developing plastic free production of tourism products or the Made in Luang Prabang label with the Handicraft Association among other SCP measures. We will also be actively supporting the Visit Laos 2018 Year.

Can you give an overview of the MOU, and how does this affect the project?

For our local, mainly Luang Prabang specific results, i.e. capacity building and local sustainable product development, we have been asked by the Luang Prabang authorities to specifically register as a provincial project under provincial supervision. This has now been mostly done, with only some technical issues regarding project activity planning according to the local government guidelines still outstanding. Once this is fully completed we can officially intensify our implementation with local government partners, which require formal consent to officially work with us on specifically local level activities.

What are the project’s plans moving ahead?

The last couple months we implemented (on a smaller scale) some different approaches and based on that experience have now decided in what way we are continue moving forward. We are therefore adding more boots on the ground with 2 more staff and – for the second and final half of the project – intensify the implementation of our local level environmental management and SCP measures together with our government partners from DICT, Heritage Office and UDAA, and for the benefit of local SMEs in the tourism and hospitality sector as long as they are organized in the Chamber of Commerce, LUTA and LHRA.

When does the project end and is there an exit strategy, hand over, or it just ends?

The project is scheduled to end in 4/2019. We have continued some initiatives from other projects, such as the Made in Luang Prabang label, and expect that other projects from GIZ or other donors will continue some of our work as well. The GIZ RELATED project will also end then, and a follow-up project will certainly consider lessons learnt from the Luang Prabang Handle with Care project. We will certainly share our learnings about successful interventions within and outside of GIZ and the EU – from local souvenir production, to organic waste management for small local restaurants to supporting DMCs in going plastic free, and then keep that up the agenda for other donors to continue, expand or deepen our approaches. Currently it is too early to tell how this continuation strategy will exactly look like, and we will keep you informed.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Luang Prabang is currently preparing for more and more mass tourism, especially increased regional integration (HK Express, train, new bus routes, etc.). The project therefore came at the right time to put environmental management, Green Tourism Economy and questions of destination-wide sustainability on the agenda. We hope that we could, can and will contribute significantly with selected SCP measures to keep Luang Prabang a cultural and environmentally sustainable destination.