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Remove Barriers To Business, Tour Operators Urge Government

Source: Vientiane Times

Tour operators have called for the government to remove a number of barriers they are facing in order to boost the industry and increase tourist arrivals.

One of their main complaints is that they have to apply for permission from the tourism sector and the police in charge of tourism affairs before bringing in their customers, even though the government has said it would do away with this complicated procedure.

A Prime Ministerial Order cancelled the requirement and in theory tour operators need only obtain documentation from the relevant authorities at international border crossings, Vice President of the Lao Association of Travel Agents, Mr Saleum Khamphengvong, said yesterday.

“But the tourism sector and tourist police continue to demand these documents and our members still have to apply for them,” he said.

This problem is one of 24 that tour operators had to deal with in 2017. The association compiled a list of the issues and submitted a report to the government asking for solutions to be found.

Resolution is being sought as the government is launching Visit Laos Year 2018 in a bid to increase tourist arrivals.

The operators also complained that it took far too long for officials to issue visas on arrival at major border crossings, which was particularly a problem when large tour groups entered the country, according to the association’s report.

The multi-step procedures involved pose additional difficulties for tour operators on public holidays and at weekends when government offices are closed, meaning tour operators cannot get the documents they need.

“Tour services have to be provided every day,” Mr Saleum said, pointing out that public holidays were peak times in the tourism industry.

Tour operators also called on the government to invest more in advertising the country’s attractions globally.

Foreign tour operators agreed that many of the most amazing places in Laos are unknown outside the country.

The founder of Travelindex, one of the largest travel and tourism index and directories in the world that owns 71 websites including the Visit Laos Website, Mr Bernard A. Metzger, said there was never enough content and information about places of interest in Laos, especially in electronic format.

“What we need is content,” Mr Metzger said in an interview with Vientiane Times when he visited Laos for the launch of Visit Laos Year 2018.

Local tour operators called for the government to consider exempting visas for tourists from targeted areas of Europe to bolster high-end tourism.

In addition, they urged the government to work with neighbouring countries to introduce a single visa to boost foreign tourist arrivals.

Local tour operators noted that the high cost of living in Laos was another factor making Lao package tours less competitive, and asked the government to take steps to address the issue.

To develop the tourism industry in the long run, tour operators called for the government to monitor and regulate illegal tour operators who are taking advantage of them.

They also underlined the need to train and upgrade Lao tour guides and tourism service providers to handle the growing need for a skilled workforce in the tourism sector.

Tour operators asked the government to improve its so-called one-stop service in order to simplify the operations of tourism businesses.

Holding talks with tour operators recently, Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Prof. Dr Bosengkham Vondara, pledged that his ministry would push forward in dealing with these issues and would be accountable for their resolution.

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