Laos, known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is the only landlocked country located in Southeast Asia and shares borders with Thailand, China, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. While it is one of the poorest countries in the region, its economy has significantly increased in the last 20 years. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, around 42,000 people in Laos or 60% of the labor force had employment in tourism, with 62% of the workers being women. Tourism was growing fast in the Lao PDR, having as many as 4.1 million international tourists in 2018. However, with the travel distribution of the COVID-19 pandemic, half of the tourism businesses closed temporarily. This caused the furloughing of 70% of their employees. The Asian Development Bank recognizes nature-based tourism in Laos needs undergo enhancement, especially as it ties to agriculture. Organizations such as the World Bank have offered recommendations on how to expand nature-based tourism in Laos. Additionally, the Global Climate Change Alliance Plus Initiative has highlighted how Laos’ practices to preserve the country’s environment can lead to job expansion in the tourism industry.
About Nature-Based Tourism
Tiger Trail Travel defines ecotourism as “tourism activity in rural and protected areas that minimizes negative impacts and is directed towards the conservation of natural and cultural resources, rural socio-economic development and visitor understanding of, and appreciation for, the places they are visiting.” According to the World Bank, Lao’s “lush nature and rich culture offer an opportunity to develop nature-based tourism, which can generate revenue, create green jobs and livelihood opportunities and lay the groundwork for greener economic growth.”
The Overall Issue
The Asian Development Bank advocates “raising competitiveness and strengthening the links between agriculture and tourism” in order for the Lao PDR to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. An ADB report found that tourism in Laos also supported growth in several sectors including livestock, fisheries and organic vegetables, potentially creating new “agricultural value chains.” Travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced around 180 tourism businesses the ADB surveyed to temporarily close, furloughing 70% of workers. Support for the tourism sector could include financial assistance and increases in vaccination, and reopen travel with “transparent, effective, and clear communication of health and safety protocols.”
Measures Laos Can Implement
The World Bank has found that the Lao PDR has beautiful landscapes of rainforests, waterfalls and mountains, all of which offer an opportunity to generate revenue and green jobs through greener economic growth. The World Bank claims, “in the next decade, nature-based tourism could grow in Laos from 4.3% of 2019 GDP and 3.5% of jobs to the global average of about 10% of GDP and 10% of jobs.” Laos has around 15% of the country set aside for conservation purposes on 23 national reserves, having more than 1,200 villages with 840,000 people residing within the boundaries. Additionally, because of international demand, Laos has the opportunity to develop nature-based tourism, as well as have “policies that enable responsible private investment and effective conservation.”
The World Bank gives two recommendations for strengthening nature-based tourism in Laos such as facilitating private investment and managing protected areas. To facilitate private investment, they suggest reducing barriers to tourism businesses for investment, creating regulations pertaining to small businesses in the tourism industry, establishing regulations and procedures in protected areas and giving “vocational training in nature-based tourism and innovating market development, and hospitality.” For managing protected areas, they suggest creating and finalizing plans for those areas, elevating the skills of departments protecting those areas, managing waste in protected areas and establishing a system involving fees and revenues around protected areas.
What Laos is Doing
The Global Climate Change Alliance Plus Initiative recognizes tourism has been a large part of Laos’ economy since the mid-2000s and the country has a lot of untouched nature. GCCA+ reported that for nature-based tourism in Laos, innovations have occurred that include the banning of chemical cleaning products in order to preserve water, wildlife and plants. Some local markets sell only organic foods to local restaurants, creating full-time jobs such as sustainability managers. GCCA+ also recognizes other organizations such as LuxDev, “which runs a ‘skills for tourism’ programme in Laos.” LuxDev recognizes that by having local and young people involved in the sustainable tourism industry in Laos, everyone benefiting is less likely to trash the environment.
LuxDev is an organization that “manage[s], monitor[s], and support[s] Luxembourg developing efforts in Laos,” after first setting up an office in Vientiane in 2016. It is an agency that supports skills development in Laos’s tourism sector, helping the poorer and more vulnerable groups in remote areas of Lao PDR.
Laos has many options to enhance its tourism industry, especially in a region so rich and prosperous in nature. Through strong nature-based tourism in Laos, more people will see the country’s beauty, thereby creating more jobs and further helping the agricultural sector. With a stronger focus on tourism, Laos’s economy can continue to grow.
– Jerrett Phinney