With the lifting of most travel restrictions, Laos and Thailand’s Isan Region look forward to welcoming a flood of new tourists – if they can fix a few persistent issues, such as the lack of air connectivity and uneven tourism development.
We asked Jason Rolan, Senior Partner of Vientiane-based public relations and advertising company RDK Group, to share his perspective on tourism recovery in this off-the-beaten-path part of the Mekong Sub-Region, and he happily obliged – as a big booster of Laos and Isan tourism, Jason has a unique perspective on area’s biggest challenges and the opportunities that are just waiting to be seized.
I know the pandemic has been rough for travel in the Mekong for the past few years. So how far do you think Laos has fared recently?
It’s a bit of a challenge. I mean, the country has only been open since May, and since then we haven’t seen a huge demand for travel yet for Laos, because it’s also the low season. So right now, we’re still in the nascent stages of of recovery. It’s not quite what it was three years ago. We are seeing some positive signals from the regional markets, but we’ll have to see how the upcoming high season is.
With air travel issues and global conflicts around the world, fuel prices that are just astronomical, it remains to be seen how in higher-spending Western markets, how their taste for Laos travel will be in the coming months. The biggest question on everyone’s minds, too, is China: when will they reopen? Because that was the biggest, maybe second-biggest market to Laos.
Are there any particular destinations in Laos and the Isan region which you feel deserve more attention from tourists? Are there any bright spots you feel that more tourists should pay more attention to, as tourism recovers?
Gosh, where to begin? In Laos, let’s start there. There’s this beautiful place called Muang Fuang, which is in between Vientiane and Vang Vieng. It’s like Vang Vieng from 20 years ago: it’s got these beautiful Karst mountains next to a river. There’s nice quaint accommodation, things like that. So it’s still a bit rustic and not really overdeveloped. During the pandemic, a lot of people started going there as well.
I also really like Savannakhet in southern Laos. Imagine Luang Prabang without all the restoration work, full of crumbling French architecture. These old buildings are being repurposed into cool cafes, restaurants and bars. There’s even an old cinema that’s been repurposed into a sort of commercial and event space. So it’s got this really chill, laid-back vibe, and when you go, you aren’t running into hordes of other tourists.