Question 1: First, thank you
for agreeing to this interview with www.business-in-asia.com.
Last time we talked with you Minister Vang you were your Laos’
Ambassador in the United States. Obviously your work must have been
successful as just recently Laos was granted Favored Trading Status or
Normalized Trade Relations (NTR) by the United States and now you are a
government Minister. How did you come to your new job and how long have
you been the Vice President of the National Tourism Administration of
Answer: I have bees
assigned to be the Vice Chairman of the Lao National Tourism
Administration (LNTA) since late 2003, and in fact my duties and
responsibilities are increasing daily. As you might know, the Lao
Government attaches high importance to the tourism sector. This sector
possesses great potentialities to be explored and developed and thus
could create more jobs for our people. Tourism is a green industry,
which could generate allot income for our country. Our Organization is
under the direct supervision by the Prime Minister’s Office, and we are
striving hard in order to reach out to the international market.
However, we have plenty of tasks to be achieved, many challenges to be
overcome and we have to develop proper infrastructures that are
necessary to develop this industry in our lovely country. The advent of
Normal Trade Relations (NTR) and the Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA)
with the United States will help Laos in several ways. Increased trade
will help Laos create jobs and improve the economy. Laos will go in
line to adopt more transparent regulations, equal treatment for foreign
and domestic companies, stronger protection for intellectual property
rights and will establish procedures for settling trade disputes. NTR
has opened up many opportunities for both Laos and the US. It means
more opportunities for Laos to export to the US because goods will now
enter at much lower tariff: an average of two point four (2.4%) percent
instead of 45 percent. I think that during my previous post as my
country’s Ambassador to USA, I have contributed greatly to the
enhancement and cooperation between Laos and the USA.
Question 2: The Year of the
Rooster has just commenced. Looking back at last year and looking
forward to the current year, how has Laos’s tourism developed and do
you see a bright year ahead and if so, what sorts of increases in
tourist arrivals are you expecting?
Answer: In 2003, due
to the outbreak of SARS and birth flu, Laos experienced a decreased
number of tourist arrivals. Another factor could also be the spread of
threats from war in Iraq. Between January 30 to February 7, 2004, Laos
successfully hosted the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF 2004) held in
Vientiane our capital city and thus made a lot of progress in tourism
development. This led to an increased number of tourists at 41% for
last year. In 2003 only 37 million visitors have visited ASEAN
countries, while in 2004; 44 Million visitors have visited our region.
As for Laos alone, in 2003, there were 636,361 visitors who arrived in
Laos which could generate income at about 87.3 Million U$D, and in 2004
the number rose up to 894,000 equivalent to about a 33% increase. Among
this number, 70% are those that are classified as regional tourist
arrivals and the remaining 30% are international arrivals. The main
objectives of tourist arrivals into Laos are for Culture Historical
Tourism and Archeology counting at 70%. Next is Eco Natural Tourism
which counts at 30%. In Eco Tourism visitors are experiencing the
forest and nature and some other historical sites. Tourism is
considered to be the biggest sector that has generated the most income
at about 118.9 Million U$D, followed by the textile industry which
ranked second and produced about 99 Million U$D, and third is export of
power electricity bringing about 86 Million U$D.
Question 3: In 2003, what was
the total number of international tourists who visited Laos and what
was the breakdown between say Europe, the U.S., Asia and other areas?
Which country in Asia is the biggest source of tourists and which areas
of the world do you see the most potential for further tourist growth?
Answer: The total number of Tourist arrivals in 2003 was 636.361 and
among this figure 498.185 were from Asia and the Pacific, 93.960 were
from Europe, 39.453 from the Americas and 4.763 are from Africa and the
Middle East. Most of tourist arrivals are from our neighboring country
Thailand, due to the geographical proximity and the expansion of
business interaction between peoples in our two countries. Europe is
also a very important market for us, since a variety of people from
Europe tend to experience lives and history in this part of the world.
The Americas and especially North America is also a big market and has
strong power to boost our economy, however the problems remaining and
hampering growth are the lack of information and the promotion of a
good strategy for marketing in the American continent.
Question 4: Laos is a very
diverse country with mountains, major rivers like the Mekong River plus
a host of ethnic minorities. Your organization has the responsibility
to promote this diversity and beauty, what resources in terms of
overseas offices, number of employees and a yearly budget does your
organization have and how does this affect the extent of your marketing?
Answer: Laos is a
multiethnic country. We do have 49 ethnic groups in the whole country
and all the groups are united, peace loving, practicing a non
discriminatory policy, equality, and stand against any use of force and
wars. Currently, the entire nation is focusing on the development
agenda and alleviation of poverty. The Government of Laos puts lots of
efforts into decentralization policy and the promotion of people
participation in the decision making process. The target groups are
those that live in the remote and mountainous areas, and forest
reservation areas. There are all together 20 reservation areas that
still possess untapped forestry and nature. The Government is
collaborating with various international organizations in the
preservation and promotion efforts to preserve the variety of fine
cultures. For instance a Project on Poverty eradication in NamHang,
Luangnamtha Province where it borders with China, has been supported by
UNDP and British Airways for the Phase 1 which is now over, and now
Phase 2 is on going supported by the New Zealand Government and UNESCO
for the culture preservation phase.
At this moment, our organization is improving the dissemination of
information through our website at: www.tourismlaos.gov.la , and
the main goal are to set up a Tourism Marketing and Promotion Board and
a master plan in national tourism and eco-tourism development. Laos has
already signed free visa(s) agreement with 6 neighboring countries
namely: Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and just
recently with the Philippines. And we expect that in the near future
within ASEAN no visa(s) will be required for our citizens to travel and
enter any country in the region. This will help facilitate our citizens
to travel easily and more conveniently, bring about good opportunities
for more business interaction and the promotion of people-to-people
Laos has opened 12 International checkpoints, which have helped foreign
visitors to obtain visa(s) on their arrival. The LNTA published various
magazines, posters, brochures for distribution on different occasions
of Expo and Tourism Fairs. Last year, I participated five times in
fairs held in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hawaii, Nan Ning (China),
Myanmar and Berlin ....
The LNTA at this stage doesn’t have any representatives posted abroad
and we do not have sufficient budget to cover this activity. We rely on
our foreign tour agents and operator partners to represent us in their
respective places such as: The Jumping Tour in Japan and our Honorary
Consul based in Stockholm Mr. Willy Hsieh to cover the Scandinavian
Question 5: Laos is sandwiched
between two much bigger neighbors in Thailand and Vietnam. Both have
large tourism industries, particularly that in Thailand which is older
and has developed into a multi-billion dollar business. Is Laos
position between these two countries both a disadvantage and also an
Answer: The project
namely the East West Economic Corridor (EWEC) or the Trans-Asia Highway
spanning from Moulmein on the Andaman Sea in Myanmar to Da Nang Port in
Vietnam by a 1,500 km road and crossing Thailand, Laos and Vietnam will
bear the increasing volume of tourist arrivals and the volume of
transported goods and encourage cooperation between countries in this
region. We would become a linked market and single destination shortly,
and therefore we can also promote our region as a single tourist
destination. Once you visit Luang Prabang, you can easily travel to
Halong Bay in Vietnam or alternatively by using the existing routes
which are: Luang Prabang- Hue -– Sukhothai - Pagan (Myanmar).
The weak point for Laos is the absence of touristic sites that can
attract people to spend more time and stay longer in Laos. We would
like to invite investors and international companies to consider
joining us in developing high class Hotels and Resorts and off course
others to develop more attractive tourism sites, so that various
tourist groups could spend more time in our country.
Question 6: Southeast Asia is a
very scenic area. Cambodia has Ankor Wat and many ancient temples;
Thailand also is highly scenic as is Vietnam and finally Laos. Do the
four countries in Mainland Southeast Asia always compete for tourists
or is there also cooperation to jointly market stops throughout the
countries of Southeast Asia and how do you feel this cooperation works
and how could it be improved?
Answer: Cambodia has much
more advantage than Laos because of the Ankhor Wat. a giant World
Heritage temple site. The LNTA is actively advertising the proposed
project on the linkage of the various existing World Heritage sites in
Laos namely Luang Prabang City, Wat Phou Champasak, the Great Water
Fall and the Plain of Jars. In Vietnam there is Hue, which is also
another World Heritage site, and when tourists plan their itinerary
they could simply combine these destinations in one package. So it
won’t be enough to visit only one country, it is recommended to combine
Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and other Mekong river riparian countries in
one package. This idea will accelerate the process of promoting a
single tourist destination for these countries and would bring about a
win-win benefit for all of us. Competition in terms or services and
identity among us will also happen. This would accelerate economic
integration, common market and development of a collective unique
destination. The rich resources of each country are expected to lead to
beautiful trade. The Northeast of Thailand could have potential in the
agriculture and consumer goods, while central Laos is rich in
agriculture, forestry, mineral and hydropower resources. Laos is named
“ Laos: the Jewel of the Mekong!”.
Question 7: Laos’s tourist areas
are still relatively unknown. Can you name some of the scenic areas for
tourists that you would most recommend and why?
Answer: I would
recommend the following:
- Luang Prabang has been identified by UNESCO as a world
heritage site. It is in fact the old capital city of LaneXang dynasty.
The living style and origin of the people has been preserved, as well
as all architectural houses being kept in the same design. Buddhist
influences are widely spread in the city itself.
- WatPhou Champasack (A predecessor of AngKor Wat) was built
in the 8th century, and the Old town of Sethapura was built in the 5th
century even before Watphou.
- The Plain of Jars in Xiengkhuang Province which is composed
of about 3,000 jars is also preparing to be identified as a World
- Viengxay Cave also is a historic and tourism site and is
now under rehabilitation to become a museum.
• The Great water fall at Khonphapheng along the Mekong river is
located in the extreme South of Laos and has a dimension of 10.8 Km.
- Siphandone Islands (Four thousands Islands), the only place
where you can watch freshwater Dolphins living in the unsalty Mekong
- The Old Railroad built during the French colonization era.
- Fifteen cultural and national heritage sites including:
Thatluang Temple, Sisaked temple, Hoprakeo (Emerald Buddha) temple and
And other national preserved sites (National Parks) with a
variety and abundance of wildlife.
The Government intends to develop tourism to be a “Green Industry”
which would thus create jobs and generate income for the country.
Question 8: Hotels and other
infrastructure in Laos outside the major cities are still rather
limited. Is Tourism a major focus of the current government and what
current opportunities are there for foreigners to profit in assisting
Laos to expand its tourism industry? Also, now that Laos has NTR status
in the U.S. does this offer additional opportunity for U.S. companies?
and transport by road are convenient in Laos. We can travel throughout
the country easily from the North to South on national roads 8, 12, 9,
18A, 18B, 7. The highway from China to link with Thailand also passes
across LuangNamtha and Bokeo Provinces of Laos. This highway connecting
Kunming City of Yunnan province in China and passing across Laos
towards Bangkok Thailand is under construction and about to be
completed. In general land transport has been improved and road
transport is considered to be a very convenient means of transport now.
The GoL is facing challenges with air transport. There are a small
number of flights, and only 2 aircrafts are possessed by the GoL. The
GoL expects to have about 4-5 aircraft in the future to serve the needs
of air travelers. There are now also 5 airlines companies that fly into
Laos such as: Thai Airway and carriers from Vietnam, China, Lao and
The GoL would like to invite foreign investment in developing
infrastructures for the Tourism industry such as: building hotel
resorts and developing more tourist sites that would attract more
foreign visitors. Generally speaking, the GoL has fully opened its door
for FDI, for instance road number 3 linking
China-Thailand-LuangNamtha-Bokeo of Laos is ongoing and near its
completion. One question often asked is why big companies and major
industries from the US are not considering to develop service areas to
build brand named restaurants and hotels to serve the transit
passengers along the main highway roads, for instance: MacDonalds, KFC
and some other famous restaurants? We would like also to invite Disney
and Water Park Complex companies to build facilities along the roads,
to create recreational and amusement centers for tourists and foreign
visitors. The GoL has fully opened itself for business, and thus
invites major firms from the US to undertake their own business
feasibility studies. The GoL more then welcomes this. We would like to
invite the internationally recognized specialists to prepare
feasibility studies on such investments since these would be more
trusted by other companies.
Question 9: Laos has unique
scenery and is still largely unspoiled by tourism. Because of this,
tourist arrivals in this area are increasing rapidly. At the same time,
development is increasing pollution, traffic and destruction of
wildlife habitat. How does your government and your government’s plan
for development factor in these very real downsides of development?
Answer: The firm
position of the GoL towards this issue is first of all to preserve the
fine existing tradition and the so called ‘Lao identity’. Environmental
protection, social impacts, and especially the wasted water treatment
caused by unplanned urbanization and inflows of people are also real
concerns. An additional concern is tourists coming to the city and
entertaining with lots of alcoholic drink leading to undesirable
affects in the city.
The GoL will keep a Fifteen percent growth rate for the Tourist sector.
In this manner we will enable to guide growth toward more sustainable
goals according to the growing market size. We will also promote the
people participatory approach, which is a prerequisite prior to
undertaking any projects in the sites and to listen to the feed back
from the local population. In Spain, tourism growth is at about 40% and
has harmed various tourist sites. In Thailand 40% growth has
demonstrated signs of negative effects, and Cambodia with 50% growth
indicates impairment already, so with this respect Laos needs to be
also very cautious.
Question 10: Tourism in Thailand
has been more actively developed and is a multi-billion dollar industry
that brings in much foreign exchange for Thailand and also helps
substantially with job growth. Has Laos studied the Thai tourism
industry and could you mention some good points and also perhaps some
lessons learned that Laos has drawn from Thailand’s experience with
the GoL has shared experiences of Thailand’s tourist development with
our counterparts in Thailand. We learned what is good and noted the
negative impacts as well. For instance in Pattaya many problems arose
such as the sex industry, tourist sites are damaged, waste water flows
into the sea, and thus disturbs the well being of nature. In Siem Riep
of Cambodia the condition of Angkhor Wat is getting worse, because of
too fast development. Too many tourists are there, and bring about
heavy flow of increased population and insufficient water supply,
lodging places and demand for food supply which needs to be imported
from Thailand, and some other negative factors.
Laos has different characteristic in terms of tourist development, we
are a small populated country with vast potentials for sustainable
growth. We would certainly keep our way for development, but we would
do our best to reach out to the international market. We will grow in
just the right pace but we will go firmly and sustain ably ahead. Thank