Source: Vientiane Times
The number of foreign tourists visiting Laos dropped for the first time in 2016 after several successive years of visitor growth, newly compiled statistics suggest.
Laos registered average annual growth in foreign tourist arrivals of 10.7 percent on average over the past five years. But last year, just over 4.23 million foreign visitors came to the country – a drop of 10 percent compared to 2015, according to statistics supplied by the Tourism Development Department of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.
Collectively, visitors from the other nine Asean member countries dropped by about 14 percent to just over 3 million people. Tourists from the Asia Pacific region dropped by 11 percent to just over 3.9 million people, and visitors from the Americas dropped by 3 percent to just 86,211 people.
Visitors from Thailand and Vietnam, the main sources of foreign visitors to Laos, dropped significantly by more than 400,000 and 100,000 people respectively.
An official in charge of the department’s analysis section gave several possible reasons for the downturn in visitor numbers.
He explained that Thai authorities had been encouraging people to take tours in their homeland by offering special incentives. These included allowing Thai nationals who spend their vacation in the country to claim a reduction in their personal income tax corresponding to what they spent while on holiday. This was believed to have resulted in a decline in Thai visitors to Laos.
“Thais who take holidays in their own country can use the receipts obtained for their expenses to claim a reduction in the tax they pay,” said the official, who asked not to be named.
Additionally, the number of foreign tourists coming to Laos in previous years was boosted by Vietnamese workers entering the country on tourist visas. But governments within Asean, of which Laos is a member, have tightened measures to regulate foreign workers, which is believed to have discouraged Vietnamese workers from coming to Laos, thus contributing to a drop in the number of Vietnamese entering Laos on tourist visas.
The increasing cost of living in Laos could also be a reason for the decline, the official said, adding that living costs in neighbouring countries like Thailand were lower than in Laos. He also observed that Laos needs to do more to attract tourists from Muslim countries such as by providing prayer rooms in public places along with promoting halal restaurants, saying that the absence of such facilities, especially in the provinces, could discourage Muslims from visiting Laos.
Statistics suggest that visitors from Muslim-majority countries like Brunei and Indonesia dropped by 44 percent and 17 percent to just 484 and 5,010 visitors respectively in 2016.
In addition, Lao tourist authorities need to do more to better promote tourism, such as by creating an official comprehensive website where all tourism-related information is available. This should include tourist attractions, transportation, accommodation and related costs, the official said, adding that the absence of such a website makes things difficult for visitors.
“We also need to create an online tourism calendar so that people can check when and where a cultural event or festival will take place throughout the year as foreigners need to arrange their holidays in advance,” the official said.
He added that the Tourism Development Department is seeking comments from other departments regarding the reasons for the drop in tourist numbers in order to seek common grounds and take steps to remedy the situation.
Tour operators have occasionally commented that a lack of variety in tourist activities, underdeveloped facilities at tourist sites, and the absence of direct flights to many countries appear to discourage some people and are factors that should be addressed.
However, the number of tourists from some regions has increased, although by a small amount. Visitors from Europe, and Africa and the Middle East, increased by 2 percent and 6 percent last year to 221,952 people and 11,263 people respectively.