Vang Vieng, Lao PDR

Sonethida Ounaphom: “In Lao PDR, women continuously participate in all sectors.”

The women of Lao PDR are actively involved in rebuilding their country after the chaos of the pandemic. Mrs. Sonethida Ounaphom, a community leader in the Lao PDR province of Champasak, has risen to the challenge herself, working closely with local communities to develop new tourism products and improve the existing ones.

Mrs. Sonethida Ounaphom wears many hats, but her roles as Managing Director of Phattana Tad Gneuang Waterfall Company and KM 40 Organic Farmers’ Group are some of her most fulfilling: “My mission is to develop sustainable tourism practices and promote organic farming in the respective areas,” she explains. As part of her job, Mrs. Sonethida Ounaphom is encouraging local farmers to shift from coffee to more vegetables. 

We asked her about her work, her commitment to the local community, and her opinions of women empowerment in Champasak and Lao PDR as a whole.

Can you tell me more about the tourism companies you run in Champasak, and what services you provide for each? What is your mission for each of the companies you run?

I started my involvement in tourism businesses in Champasak back in 2003-2004, primarily focusing on providing quality services to both local and international tourists. My companies, Champamay Travel and Phattana Tad Gneuang Waterfall Co. Ltd, aim to promote tourism in the region and offer various services such as tour packages, transportation arrangements, and accommodation options.

As the Managing Director of Phattana Tad Gneuang Waterfall Company and KM 40 Organic Farmers’ Group, my mission is to develop sustainable tourism practices and promote organic farming in the respective areas.

Following the success of my previous ventures, I recently initiated a new project after realizing the potential for tourism in the untouched areas of Champasak. Since 2010, I have been actively involved in eco-tourism development and community-based tourism initiatives. These projects aim to preserve the natural beauty of the region while empowering local communities through sustainable tourism practices.

Tad Gneuang Waterfall, Champasak, Lao PDR. Image courtesy of Aleksey Gnilenkov (CC BY 2.0)

Have women been marginalized in the local travel business in the past? What role do women play in the local tourism business now? Are they dominant in the tourism business sector?

Phattana Tad Gneuang Waterfall Company has women working in all sectors, and in 80% of the activities that are important in the local area of Champasak Province, Lao PDR. Currently, women are involved in all tasks, alongside men, in all fields of specialization, whether it is service or other aspects.

I have had the opportunity to be a developer in the field of tourism services and have seen the attention given to women by the authorities, from the middle level to the local level. Women receive comprehensive attention, not only as developers of the tourism business, but also as Lao citizens throughout the country.

In the present Lao People’s Democratic Republic, women continuously participate in all sectors and grow alongside the growth of tourism and other sectors as well. I am one of the lucky ones who had the opportunity to develop in the tourism area of this beautiful waterfall, and I see the potential with the parents of the locals who are basically hardworking people.

What’s your relationship like with Champasak’s local communities, and how do your projects help them?

In recent times, we have focused on promoting the members of the KM 40 Organic Farmers’ Group within the scope of the tourism development of Tad Gneuang Waterfall. This creates opportunities for them to access foreign language learning, and encourages their participation in training in each sector related to clean, green, and sustainable agricultural tourism services.

Dozens of families formed a group to grow organic vegetables in the village, through my chairmanship as well as having a policy to promote the planting of seeds as a market for the parents of the people in the area and also social welfare for those who are more diligent and active.

As tourism has returned after the COVID-19 pandemic, has tourism recovered in Champasak as well? What should tourists expect to see when they visit Champasak?

After the relaxation of policies to allow normal entry and exit services following the spread of the COVID-19 disease, the tourism sector now has a better atmosphere with a large number of domestic and foreign tourists.

There are many charms in Champasak, including nature, history, culture, and beautiful traditions, all worth exploring. Champasak province has many beautiful and unique tourist attractions in each locality, diverse and rich, as well as connecting neighboring countries, making travel between them easy in many directions and allowing safe access to tourist attractions.

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