Luang Prabang tour guides lose out despite resurgence of domestic tourism in Laos

  • Laos
  • Thursday, 23 Jul 2020

The ancient city of Luang Prabang, listed in 1995, is one of Laos’ three Unesco World Heritage Sites. - The Star/ANN

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN): While domestic tourists have begun returning to Luang Prabang province after the control of the spread Covid-19 in Laos, tour guides who previously led groups of international visitors are failing to benefit.

Managing director of Asia Banhao Travel in Luang Prabang, Kongchakky, told Vientiane Times on Wednesday (July 22) that his business is one of many that offers tour guide services for visitors.

“Since Lao visitors started returning to the province last month, none have used our tour guides services as they travel independently, ” he said.

Fortunately, the business has not been forced to close as it also operates a restaurant which can serve domestic visitors.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, his tour guides conducted tours for international visitors almost every day in Luang Prabang to popular sites such as Phousi Mountain. During the peak season, up to 300 people visited the top of the mountain to witness the beautiful sunset.

But now there are no overseas visitors due to the temporary closure of the border.

Some tour guides have adapted to change quickly and have begun operating food outlets or reverting to farming instead. Many locals are hopeful Luang Prabang’s usual international visitation will return to normal within two years.

Kongchakky Phanthasombath explained that domestic visitors are utilising hotels, guest houses and restaurants as well as buying tickets to enter tourist attractions but not using tour guide services.

Most Lao people tour in small family groups and sometimes with friends and don’t need guides as they figure things out for themselves.

While relatively small, World Heritage-listed Luang Prabang city nestled between the Mekong and Khan rivers has experienced growing popularity among international visitors, including Chinese tourists.

Today, Luang Prabang can accept up to about 10,000 tourists per day, but some worry about the sustainable future of tourism if visitor numbers rise further during peak times.

The ancient city of Luang Prabang, listed in 1995, is one of Laos’ three Unesco World Heritage Sites. The others being the Vat Phou temple complex in Champassak province, listed in 2001, and the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khuang province which was inscribed on the list last year.

Luang Prabang used to be the capital of the Lane Xang Kingdom and has been variously called Meuang Swa, Meuang Xiengdong and Meuang Xiengthong over the years.

In 1353 King Fa Ngum brought the sacred Prabang statue to Meuang Viengkham, and in 1489 the revered Buddha image was moved to Meuang Xiengthong for public worship.

The name of the town was then changed to Meuang Luang Prabang in acknowledgement of the presence of the statue and has remained unchanged ever since. - Vientiane Times/Asia News Network

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