By Suchat Sritama
Number of tourists expected to reach 10 million in five years
At least 40 hotels, including five international chains, are scheduled to open in Laos over the next five years as the country becomes a more popular tourist destination.
Yang Fu Ning, general manager of Don Chan Palace, a luxury hotel in Vientiane, said international brands Ramada, InterContinental, Crown Plaza, Sofitel and Marriott were set to open hotels in the capital by 2019.
Three global brands – Mercure, Ibis and Best Western – have already opened their doors in Vientiane, and one regional brand has entered the World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang.
Furthermore, 25-30 three- and four-star hotels are set to open in the capital, with some in other tourist cities.
Yang said about 300 hotels, resorts, guest houses, boutique properties and independent hotels were already in Vientiane, and most were owned and operated by locals.
“Laos is opening up for tourism right now,” he said, adding that foreign tourists would be arriving in greater numbers.
A representative of the National Tourism Administration said Laos saw 3.7 million arrivals last year, generating income of US$600 million (Bt20 billion).
The government aims for 3.9 million tourists this year. The number of arrivals should reach 10 million within five years.
The top five source markets are South Korea, China, Vietnam, Japan and Thailand. The number of American and European tourists has significantly increased in recent years.
“In the next five years, the China market should become the largest portion for Laotian tourism due to a new high-speed train being constructed. The train will link Vientiane to Kunming in southern China, so a lot of tourists from China [will be] able to reach Laos easier and faster,” Yang said.
The Laotian government is also expanding Savannakhet Airport in the country’s south as a new aviation hub along with improving attractions in all key destinations while working intensively to increase the number of border checkpoints and integrate with countries in the region and the world at large.
Currently, seven foreign airlines, including Thai Airways International, AirAsia and Bangkok Airways, and two local carriers are operating in and out Laos. Some of these airlines run charter flights during high season.
One of the biggest investment opportunities touted by the Laotian government is Asean Paradize Savan City in the Savannakhet special economic zone, just cross the Mekong River from Thailand’s Mukdahan province.
The $10-billion project on 1,700 rai (272 hectares) will comprise an offshore financial centre, entertainment facilities, a casino, and accommodation for foreigners. Its first phase is scheduled to open in 2019.
Last year, the European Council on Tourism and Trade named Laos the “World’s Best Tourist Destination for 2013”, which put the country on the global tourism map especially for its rich history, culture, traditions and natural beauty.
In 2008, The New York Times named Laos as one of 53 countries it described as the world’s top tourist destinations.
Luang Prabang received the Top City Gold Award after being voted the world’s top tourist destination by Wanderlust, a UK-based travel magazine, from 2006 to 2008 and 2010 to 2012.