The Lao travel trade sparked to life late last week, with a tourism and hospitality webinar, easing of restrictions after a rigid six-week Covid lockdown, and the publication of the “Statistical Report on Tourism in Laos 2020”.
Laos Tourism & Hospitality Roundtable
The European Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Lao PDR hosted an online “Roundtable Meeting for Hospitality & Tourism” on Thursday, 3 June, with some 25 travel trade stakeholders taking part. Countrywide participants represented a range of sectors: hotels and restaurants, DMCs, development partners, and the media.
Attendees shared their thoughts and actions covering a myriad of topics. Participants voiced their current situations, with many noting the current lockdown erased much of the progress made during the Lao Thiao Lao domestic tourism campaign.
Several said overhead has presented a major burden during the lockdown, such as electricity and staff costs to ongoing maintenance. Many wondered if the government would be offering assistance, while others noted that officials relied on input from the private sector before considering relief.
Closures of tourism and hospitality enterprises generated concern. Lee Sheridan, representing Luxembourg Development, stated their “Skills for Tourism Project” had been compiling data regarding business closures, and would continue once the lockdown loosened. (Clarification: “We are conducting an Enterprise and Skills survey for the sector, for which we are in the process of identifying businesses that are open for participating in the survey.” Lee Sheridan)
WeAreLao Co-founder John Morris Williams pointed to a pre-lockdown 2 survey he had conducted of 385 hotels and guesthouses in Luang Prabang, and found just 35 (9%) remained open.
This triggered calls for a start to reopening the borders using travel bubbles with Thailand and Vietnam, for vaccinated travelers. Many cited Thailand’s “Sandbox” rules as a potential reopening model to watch.
Laurent Granier, Co-founder and General Manager of Laos Mood Travel, reported that customers of their European travel agents, with who he continually communicates, are turning to African countries that have reopening plans in place. Mr Granier’s main concerns are that Laos is losing out on opportunities and risks falling off tourists’ radar screens.
Inthira Group General Manager Stan Fradelizi expressed similar sentiments, stressing the industry faces extremely dire straits if the borders remained shut for much longer.
EXO Travel Lao Managing Director Duangmala Phommavong reiterated the need for the private sector to present any reopening proposals they may have to Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism. Ms Phommavong also serves on the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (LNCCI) Board of Directors.
The LNCCI has taken the lead in implementing the previously mentioned Lao Thiao Lao campaign with initial financial support provided by the Skills for Tourism Project. Mr Sheridan said the project will continue supporting the campaign for a few months, but the project is coming to a close. Still, efforts are being made to secure funding to continue with the highly popular and successful domestic travel campaign.
USAID’s Melvin Spence noted their mission’s plans include becoming more involved in tourism, with an eye on developing SMEs and marketing sustainable tourism. He also urged the private sector to engage with the Lao government with any projects in need of USAID support.
Lockdown Extended…Restrictions Eased
Laos began loosening its tight Covid-19 clampdown measures on Friday, 4 June, after six weeks of a continuously stringent lockdown.
The Laotian Times reported the Prime Minister’s Office’s notice outlined the “gradual loosening of lockdown measures, with certain strict measures to remain in place” from 5-19 June.
The Lao travel trade found a few rays of hope in the new measures, especially regarding restaurants, business events, and inter-provincial travel.
Restaurants in low-risk areas may open their doors, but must observe social distancing and comply with all ongoing Covid-19 prevention measures. They cannot serve alcoholic beverages.
The noose has also been loosened for meeting and conferences, with similar restrictions, and an emphasis on temperature checks, facemasks and hand washing. Hotel restrictions were not mentioned.
Land transportation between provinces may continue under current regulations, though travel to high-risk communities is prohibited.
Air travel may resume throughout the country, but only for passengers who have been fully vaccinated for at least one month. International borders will continue to remain closed.
These new restrictions will remain in place through 19 June, at which time the government will reassess the situation.
The country’s second major lockdown began on 21 April, after new cases began cropping up during Lao New Years that commenced the previous week.
In the year leading up to the new outbreak, Laos had witnessed fewer than 50 cases, all of who recovered. This extremely low number is mostly due to the government taking swift and effective action.
By 23 April 2021, the number of cases reached 159, the start of a spike that peaked on 26 April, with 113 new cases, bringing the total to 387. According to United Nations Geoscheme, new daily cases remained above 50 through 26 May, after which they tumbled to less than 20 per day, with many days below 10. Six new cases were recorded on 6 June, bringing the total to 1,963, with 246 active cases and three deaths.
From a global perspective, Laos ranks 212th in cases per million people out of the 222 countries monitored by the UN. So, while the country’s Lao Thiao Lao domestic tourism campaign remains on hold, at least until 19 June, Laos continues as one of the lowest risk nations for catching Covid-19 in the world, while effectively continuing to test, trace, and roll out vaccines.
Statistical Report on Tourism in Laos 2020
Laos’ 2020 tourism report began making the rounds last week, confirming the disastrous year. Some analysts might conclude that once the borders reopen, the country’s tourism would be starting at Year 1. Predictions for 2021 are certainly premature. Still, a review of the facts seems worthwhile, though there are no solid conclusions to draw.
Laos welcomed 886,477 foreign arrivals in 2020, a far cry from the expected 4.9 million. January’s tally of 351,104 climbed 5.9% over the same month in 2019. February’s 345,900 showed a 2.5% increase, before the floor fell out in March, with a 51.9% drop to 189,443. The number then flat-lined for the rest of the year.
Dreams of revenue breaking through the $1-billion barrier in 2020 were crushed. Tourism netted $213,367,141 last year compared to the $934,710,409 reaped in 2019.
Domestic tourism also took a major hit, mostly due to the national lockdown that knocked out the peak travel period during Lao New Years in mid-April. Domestic visitor numbers reached 1,490,073 for 2021, down from the 7,358,039 recorded the year before. Measuring the impact of the Lao Thiao Lao campaign remains a guess, though it likely provided a much-needed boost.
Overall, last week’s tourism and hospitality seminar and easing of lockdown restrictions somewhat reinvigorated the lethargic sector, and may mark a turning point in moving Lao tourism ahead.