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Monday, January 7

Laos tourism soars past target

Tourism officials believe visits to Laos will top 3.1 million in 2012, up by 14% compared to 2011.

Vientiane Times reported earlier this week that the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism has an unofficial tally of all the provinces, except for Khammuan province and Vientiane.

Even without December figures for these two areas, Laos has already registered 2.9 million a record for the country’s tourism, which is based mainly on heritage and ecotourism attractions. Tourism Development Department director-general, Soun Manivong, said he was confident that once the December figures from Khammuan province and Vientiane are factored in another 200,000 visits will push the 2012 total to 3.1 million.

“In recent years, Vientiane alone welcomed 300,000 visitors in December. But bearing in mind that Vientiane hosted the ASEAN University Games this month it makes sense that the city and province will have been more tourist arrivals than normal,” Mr. Soun told the Vientiane Times.

“The forecast of 3.1 million visitors is our lowest projection and I think we can expect even more than that,” he added. Laos has enjoyed robust tourism growth in recent years that could lead to some readjustments of the country’s long range business targets.

“We will need to revise forecasts,” Mr. Soun said, after seeing the rapid growth. He attributed the high figure to government policies that ease travel through visa exemptions and more airline links.

It has achieved the remarkable growth despite having little cash to fund its Visit Laos Year 2012 that gained little media exposure outside the country. One striking example was the growth in tourist arrivals from the Republic of Korea up from 35,000 in 2011 to more than 50,000 in 2012, an increase of 46%. It was mainly due visa exemptions and the start-up of direct airline services. Notably, tourists from neighboring Cambodia represented the biggest growth of 107%. Cambodian visitors to Laos reached an increase of about 7,500 in 2011 to more than 15,500.

Mr. Soun noted a 26% growth in Chinese tourists, up from about 150,000 in 2011 to 190,000 this year. Against the backdrop of substantial increases in visits from Asian markets, Laos suffered a drop in visits from both Europe and the United States (minus 9% and 8% respectively). That trend is likely to continue in 2013 for Laos and all of its Mekong Region neighbors as recession bugs the economies of Europe and the US.

This month Vientiane hosts the annual ASEAN Tourism Forum that will be attended by around 800 tourism officials and representatives of ASEAN’s tourism industry. A trade fair included in the ATF format will attract another 250 to 300 buyers from worldwide markets, lifting the overall attendance at the week-long event to around 1,200, arguably the largest tourism event to be hosted in the Lao capital.

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