The message that came out of the 7th MeTAG webinar, organised by the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) in Bangkok last week, was clear – domestic tourism is going to play a very important role for countries looking to rebuild their tourism revenue.
COVID19 has caused over 508,000 deaths and, as of 04:33 GMT +7 on 1 July, there were 10,393,467 cases globally – an increase of over 193,669 since 05:43 GMT +7 on 30 June. That’s roughly 8,420 new cases globally, every hour.
Many people around the world have had to take pay without leave, had their salaries reduced, or even lost their jobs. Just in the past few days, Qantas announced it would be laying off over 6,000 jobs, Airbus is to layoff 15,000, Air France has said it plans to cut 7,500 jobs, EasyJet, Jetstar Asia are also making reduction, as are many more companies. In June, Cathay Pacific said it had been losing between HK$2.5 and HK$3 billion dollars every month since February, and many other airlines are in a similar position.
All that is just a tiny, tiny fraction of the global economic problem that is gradually building and heading our way. Think of the street food vendors, the ice cream parlours, the restaurants, bars, tour operators, tuk tuk drivers, hotel workers, and so many others who all rely on tourism in some way or other to survive, and you begin to see why domestic tourism is so very important.
And COVID19 is not slowing down, the rate of infections is growing rapidly. On Monday (Geneva time), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said, “We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is, this is not even close to being over. Although many countries have made some progress, globally the pandemic is actually speeding up.”
Laos, one of the countries represented at the 7th Mekong Tourism Advisory Group’s (MeTAG) webinar, has already put together a tourism recovery action plan from now up to 2025 that is under consideration by the government.
As Laos’ borders are closed and no international flights allowed into the country, the plan’s short term proposal is to increase domestic tourism by extending the number of national holidays and encourage residents to explore the beauty that Laos has to offer.
The country reopened its domestic tourism business on 27 May and domestic flights are now operating.
Mr. Somxay Sipaseuth, Laos’ Director of Tourism Planning and Development, said, “For domestic tourists now, during the COVID period from January to March there were no movements. After that, especially the people from Vientiane are travelling to Vang Vieng, now it is full booking and the hotels and restaurants also discount, especially for Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang … The number [of domestic tourists] we calculate from the branch office in each province is over two million, approximately.”
All sectors of the industry are trying to attract a portion of those two million domestic tourists, from budget hotels to the very best 5-star hotels. The Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao reopened today, and Iain Langridge, Belmond’s Divisional MD Asia Pacific, said in an exclusive video interview that the hotel has received a good number of forward bookings and even requests from some wealthy clients to book the whole property for a few days.
As it is currently the rainy season in Laos, traditionally also the low season for inbound tourism, it is a popular time of year for wealthy Laos people and expats to take a break and go on holiday to Europe, Australia or somewhere closer to home. This may represent an opportunity for the domestic tourism market in Laos, says Janina Bikova, an Ecotourism Advisor for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Laos.
“I think it is an interesting opportunity this year for Laos. Of course, we are all upset about the current situation, but I think we need to try to see the bright side, where it’s possible,” said Janina during the webinar. “Laos should embrace all those travellers who would normally not necessarily travel much in Laos, but this year are forced to travel in Laos because the borders are closed … I hope that local travellers will learn more about the beauty of their country and therefore travel even more in the future within their own country. They still might travel long-haul, but a little bit less, and appreciate more what they have on their doorstep.”
Susie Martin from the Laos Buffalo Dairy said they have seen an increase in domestic visitors from within Laos, but also highlighted the fact that numbers and revenue are much lower than normal. “It’s nothing like our normal levels of tourism, and even though this is low season because it is holidays for the northern hemisphere, school holidays and even shorter school holidays in the southern hemisphere we are missing a lot of tourism revenue this year, but we are seeing some expats and local Laos people from Vientiane and Vang Vieng coming to visit,” Susie said.
Myanmar, another beautiful country in the Mekong region, has already entered the second phase of its COVID19 tourism relief plan. The first phase, from April – June 2020, was mainly about survival and included self-finance and stimulus packages. The second phase, which runs from June to August, concerns re-opening and involves relaxing the lockdowns and quarantine measures. Phase three, from August 2020 to January 2021, targets re-launching and will focus on “Reinventing Tourism in Myanmar” and relaxing regulations.
Read the full article at Travel News Asia: http://www.asiatraveltips.com/news20/17-LaosMyanmar.shtml