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Laos will need to improve human resources

Although Laos enjoys continuous growth in 2013 with over 3.7 million international travellers, the lack of skilled manpower is creating a problem to the quality of the tourism experience for travellers.

KUCHING – The press conference of Lao PDR during the recent ATF looks basically like conferences in previous years. The country’s tourism authorities highlighted that Laos has again reached a new record in total arrivals. Although definitive figures were not released in Kuching, Laos PDR should have reached close between 3.75 and 3.8 million foreign arrivals , a growth of 15% -if based on the figures from January to September. Commenting on the results, Saly Phimphinith explained during the ATF that Laos will continue to improve its tourism performances as the former landlocked country is getting increasingly opened with new checkpoint. Last December, Laos and Thailand inaugurated its fourth bridge over the Mekong. The 4th Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge links now the Chiang Rai province with Huay Xai in Lao province of Bokeo, shortening the way to China via Luang Namtha in Northern Laos.

ASEAN is still the largest source of Laos travellers with over half of all arrivals to the country coming from neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam. From January to September, Thailand reached 1.53 million of visitors while Vietnam generated 0.65 million of trips. Both represent respectively a market share of 55% and 23%. In total ASEAN countries represent for Laos 87% of all arrivals. The launch of flights from Lao Airlines and Jin Air to Seoul translated into a growth in Korean arrivals by almost 60% at over 62,000 while European arrivals reach 150,000, a growth of 16%.

With the future opening of two more bridges over the Mekong and the perspective to hae a high speed train link financed by China to Yunnan and going further to Thailand, Laos will certainly continue to attract more travellers. However, will quality grow with the possible quantity?

Laos is faced with the challenge of having few skilled workers. LANITH, the first hotel and tourism institution financed by Luxemburg, opened its first training facility in Luang Prabang and is developing now a campus in Vientiane. LANITH is already providing training courses but this remains too little.

Hotels are generally confronted to poorly skilled workers, generally friendly and nice but rarely knowledgeable. It would then request from hotels to significantly invest into training to get the right staff. “We have a real problem with staff excellence”, admits a young European hotelier based in Vientiane. Many hotels are hiring staff from neighbouring Thailand, a move which could accelerate from the end of next year, when the ASEAN Economic Community comes into effect.

Laos will also have to invest seriously in promotion. Its budget at a couple of hundred thousand per year is insufficient to strengthen the country’s image in new or mature markets. Especially as Myanmar is turning into an increasingly serious competitor…

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Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.