Lao Tourism Minister Vows to Remove Tourism Barriers

With various barriers hindering the development of the tourism industry, authorities in charge will work closely with the relevant sectors to remove these obstacles, a minister told parliament yesterday.

Responding to questions raised by National Assembly (NA) members at the ongoing 5th ordinary session of parliament, Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Prof. Dr Bosengkham Vongdara said he agreed with their comments that various hindrances existed.

As an example, the processing of documents when entering and exiting Laos is time-consuming, which annoys tourists, the minister said.

“This is a fact,” he told the biannual session, which was chaired by NA President Mrs Pany Yathotou.

Another irksome issue is that visitors have been asked to pay unwarranted fees or fines at checkpoints on roads and at tourist sites, which is upsetting for both tourists and tour operators.

“This is also a fact,” the minister added.

Transport charges by various service providers vary and tend to be expensive, while the entry fees at some tourist attractions were unreasonable, he admitted.

“In addition, the overall cost of living in the provinces and in Laos as a whole is high compared to neighbouring countries,” Prof. Dr Bosengkham said.

A government report issued last year suggested that the price of food staples in Laos was 10-20 percent higher than in Thailand and Vietnam.

The minister added that many designated tourist sites do not have any facilities while some are unsafe, with the result that some foreign tourists have died or been injured. The tourism industry also suffers from poorly trained tour guides who have an inadequate grasp of the country’s history and especially the historical associations of some visitor attractions. There is also a shortage of tour guides who are fluent in foreign languages, the minister said.

The ministry has attempted to address the situation by promulgating a number of laws and regulations as a reference in regulating these problems and promoting tourism, he told parliament.

The minister said his staff have worked with the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Public Security, Industry and Commerce, and Public Works and Transport to overcome the various difficulties that have arisen.

Despite these efforts and the considerable progress that has been made so far, the minister admitted that some barriers remain, underlining the need to keep working with the relevant sectors to address them. NA member for Vientiane Mr Saithong Keoduangdy called for the government to invest more, with appropriate measures, to develop the tourism industry, saying tourism could become an important pillar of economic growth given Laos’ huge potential in this area. 

Also addressing the session on Tuesday, Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith described the barriers as shortcomings and vowed to address them as part of measures to drive the economy.

The premier pledged to invest more in the upgrade of roads and related facilities to provide better access to tourist sites, while continuing to improve tourism and related services and pushing tour operators to upgrade their operations so they were more competitive.

In recent years the government has allocated a certain budget and the ministry has mobilised support from international organisations and friendly countries to invest in the development of tourist sites in many provinces, according to Prof. Dr Bosengkham.

A number of training sessions have been organised for tour guides, tour operators and hospitality service operators to upgrade their professions and services to Asean standards. As a result, some tour and hotel operators have been granted Asean awards.

By Souksakhone Vaenkeo, Vientiane Times  

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