The reopening of Lao PDR’s borders drew 1.3 million international tourists to the country in 2022. Key source markets were Thailand, Vietnam, China, South Korea, and the United States. With positive signs of tourism recovery, the country is expecting 1.4 million international visitors in 2023, including an estimated 368,000 Chinese arrivals. Declaring 2023-2024 the “Lao Tourism Year”, the government is determined to speed up the completion of major infrastructure projects such as roads and airports to facilitate tourism while also tackling a labor shortage in the tourism and hospitality industry. This step will lead to Laos PDR hosting the ASEAN Tourism Forum in January 2024. In fact, it was the only Southeast Asian country that made The Telegraph’s top 20 destinations travelers must visit this year.
To further boost tourism, Lao PDR continues to offer visa exemptions to tourists from 16 countries. Citizens of ASEAN member countries get a visa-free entry for up to 30 days, while citizens of Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Russia, and Mongolia are eligible for visa-free stays of up to 15 or 21 days, depending on the country. Meanwhile, Lao Airlines is restarting direct flights to enhance connectivity with Da Nang, Vietnam after 10 years, starting on 30 March. The airline has also been working with travel agencies in Lao PDR and Vietnam to develop travel programs for Laotians to visit Da Nang. This year, the airline will also launch new routes from Pakse to major cities in China to attract more visitors, as Pakse International Airport allows 30-day visa on arrival for several countries. Furthermore, Lao Skyway has worked to improve domestic travel connections by adding additional flights between Vientiane and Xayaboury every Thursday morning.
China remains one of the most important markets for Lao PDR, and traveling between the two countries is now easier than ever thanks to the high-speed train that launched at the end of 2021. The 1,035-kilometer-long line, including 422km of rugged, mountainous landscapes, links Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province, and the capital of Vientiane. In its first year of operation, the train transported 8.5 million passengers and 11.2 million tons of freight.
It also significantly reduced travel times between renowned destinations in Laos PDR. It now takes just over two hours to travel from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. In the first two months of 2023, the railway attracted 417,400 passengers, an increase of 256.2 percent over the same period last year. It also set a record of 10,000 travelers per day in the first week of March. The recent launch of the digital LCR Ticket application has also made reservations much easier for tourists. The Prime Minister of Lao PDR has requested the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to set up immigration checkpoints at train stations along the Laos-China Railway to accommodate the increasing demand for rail travel.
Regarding international cooperation, the prime ministers of Lao PDR and Cambodia recently discussed the potential to build a high-speed railway connecting the two countries and others in the region, aiming to enhance tourism flow through a long-term strategic partnership. The two countries also recently signed a joint tourism promotional campaign called “Two Countries, One Destination”, aiming to increase connectivity through new flights and cruises, simplify immigration procedures at border crossings, improve tourism workforce standards, encourage tourism businesses to organize travel programs to attract more Chinese tourists, and foster investment in tourism through roadshows to increase bilateral tourism.
In addition, Lao PDR is one of the target countries of the Tourism for Development Fund, which offers 10 years of sustainable tourism support from the TUI Care Foundation in partnership with UNWTO. The program amplifies Lao PDR’s potential to boost economic growth and poverty alleviation through sustainable tourism development. It will focus on building the capacity of local communities to improve their livelihoods, conserve, and regenerate nature, and create market-based solutions that benefit tourism destinations.