VIENTIANE: With the tourism sector in Laos gradually recovering, the Lao government expects that China's resumption of outbound group tours will be a strong boost to the Southeast Asian country's tourism industry.
Laos has seen a boom in tourism in the first three months of 2023 as more than 831,000 foreign tourists visited the country, in stark contrast to the 211,898 overseas visitors in the first six months of 2022.
Statistics compiled by the Lao Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism show that among the total arrivals, 344,405 visitors were from Thailand, around 180,000 came from Vietnam, 143,312 from China, and 45,756 from South Korea.
Meanwhile, the Lao government and private sectors have been preparing for the arrival of large numbers of Chinese tourists after Laos was listed among countries greenlit by the Chinese government for outbound group tours.
Speaking at a meeting on preparations for Chinese tourists held on May 26, Lao Deputy Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Ounthuang Khaophan said the Chinese tourism market is a source of great revenue and because of this, many countries have been engaged in promotion schemes to attract Chinese tourists.
A huge boost to the growth of this market is the China-Laos Railway, which enables fast and convenient travel between Laos and China, while more flights between Lao capital Vientiane and a number of Chinese cities are opening up, further facilitating travel, Ounthuang said.
A food vendor at a night market in Vientiane told Xinhua on Monday that Chinese tourists are back, bringing huge benefits to the tourism industry in Laos.
"I believe that the number of tourists visiting Laos will increase rapidly in the coming months, especially those from China, because of the reopening of China and the launch of the cross-border passenger service on the China-Laos Railway," the food vendor said.
The new cross-border train service has been widely advertised internationally as part of integrated passenger transport services to promote tourism in Laos.
The railway has handled 13,310 cross-border passenger trips since the launch of its passenger service.
As the China-Laos Railway serves as a crucial tourism infrastructure, Lao authorities estimate that around 368,000 Chinese travelers will visit Laos in 2023, up 21% from last year.
Laos is preparing many facilities and services to welcome Chinese tourists to encourage them to return.
The Lao government has also been improving tourism products and modernising the tourism industry to suit the Chinese market.
"I've heard that China resumed outbound group tours this year. And I'm very much looking forward to welcoming our Chinese clients back," Nangnoy, a food vendor in Vang Vieng, a tourism town in Vientiane province, told Xinhua recently.
She added that Laos has many nature-based tourist destinations. In addition, there are numerous colorful cultural traditions to be observed among the country's ethnic groups, while old temples and historical sites are another big lures.
"I fully believe that we will see a significant increase in Chinese tourist arrivals this year," added Nangnoy.
During the Lao government's monthly meeting on May 23, the cabinet told state departments to hold talks with tourism business operators and share ideas and activities to be organised during Visit Laos Year 2024 to revitalise the tourism industry and boost the economy.
The Lao government considers tourism its top priority in revitalising the economy, and the country is preparing to welcome an influx of foreign visitors in 2023.
The Lao Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism aims to attract 1.4 million international visitors by the end of 2023, with a revenue target of up to US$340 million.