China-Laos Railway uplifts local tourism and employment

Right direction: A street market in Vientiane. Over the past two years, the Laos-China Railway Co has handled 24.2 million passenger trips and transported 29.1 million tonnes of cargo, according to China’s railway operator. — AFP

VIENTIANE: At the age of 20, Lao girl Bounmee has already become the breadwinner for her family. As the chief conductor of a bullet train on the China-Laos Railway, she now earns a salary way more than her peers.“My parents are so proud of me,” she said in fluent Chinese.

After high school, she went to study Chinese in the hope that language skills could help her land a high-paying job, and the launch of the China-Laos Railway on Dec 3, 2021 helped her hard work pay off.

Two years into operation, the railway has created jobs for thousands of Laotians, like Bounmee, and brought tangible benefits to local tourism, supporting the country’s post-pandemic growth.

Over the past two years, the railway has handled 24.2 million passenger trips and transported 29.1 million tonnes of cargo, according to China’s railway operator.

The monthly passenger trips handled by the railway have grown significantly from more than 600,000 at the beginning of its operation to more than 1.1 million now.

According to Laos-China Railway Co (LCRC), a joint venture based in Lao capital Vientiane responsible for the operation of the railway’s Lao section, the demand for bullet trains is beyond original expectations, and the company is stepping up efforts to tailor to Lao people’s ever-increasing and diversifying needs.

In line with the increasing demand for high-end services, the LCRC added business-class seats to new trains, facilitating better experiences along the journey.

“We want to bring quality products and services to Laos, and we want Lao people to share the benefits during the process,” a LCRC operations manager said.

The railway has contributed to the recovery of the tourism industry in Laos, which is a crucial driver for growth, but was badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The bullet trains became a much-needed boost as they greatly cut travel time between major cities, attracting tourists from home and abroad. At Luang Prabang, a popular tourist destination, passengers were lining up to take the bullet trains.

Thanks to the China-Laos Railway, travel time between Vientiane and Luang Prabang was cut to about two hours, compared with more than six hours of driving.

“We chose Laos as the destination because it’s convenient to travel around via the trains,” said Minjung Choi, a tourist from South Korea, who was on a five-day visit to Laos with her friend.

“It’s a clean, safe and efficient way to travel, and it’s not too hard for us to buy the tickets,” she said.

More than 2.4 million foreign tourists visited Laos in the first nine months of 2023, up by 285% from a year ago, according to statistics from the Lao Information, Culture and Tourism Ministry.

The LCRC said it hopes that, together with the development of the railway, the skills of local employees like Bounmee could also improve so that more management positions could be opened to local people, supporting high-quality employment.

For Bounmee, who now has the Chinese name “Xiao Li,” meaning “little beauty”, that means brighter career prospects and a shining future ahead.

“I hope I can travel to China to learn more technical skills and see with my own eyes the beautiful country,” she said. — Xinhua

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