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Experts discuss ecotourism promotion in Laos

PAKSE, Laos -- Nearly 100 experts on tourism gathered in a southern town of Laos on Friday to discuss ways to promote the country’s eco-friendly tourism, a key to boosting its local economy.

Under the theme of “Reinforcing sustainable Tourism in Lao PDR,” the one-day workshop held in Pakse, offered a platform for Lao government officials, travel agencies and professionals to draw ideas to lure more Korean tourists to the landlocked nation in Southeast Asia.

Guests participate in the ecotourism conference held in Pakse, Laos, on Friday. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
Guests participate in the ecotourism conference held in Pakse, Laos, on Friday. (ASEAN-Korea Center)

Cohosted by the ASEAN-Korea Center and Laos’ Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, the conference centered on helping participants better understand Korea’s tourism industry and build capacity in the hospitality industry through presentations and discussions.

“I hope that the workshop can lay the groundwork for Laos to become an eco-friendly travel destination by explaining to you how to promote ecotourism, attract Korean tourists and build capacity in the hospitality industry,” said Kim Young-sun, secretary-general of the ASEAN-Korean Center, in his opening speech.

Chaleune Warinthrasak, the vice minister of information, culture and tourism, also welcomed the Korean delegation, saying the partnership with Korea has greatly contributed to the development of Lao’s tourism industry.

“Laos views the growth of its tourism industry as a crucial element for socioeconomic development to improve the livelihoods of Lao people,” the vice minister said.

Since the nation began opening up to the world in the 1990s, its government has endorsed ecotourism to promote its unspoilt natural and cultural heritages.

Participants at the ecotourism workshop pose for pictures before the event takes place in Pakse, Laos, on Friday. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
Participants at the ecotourism workshop pose for pictures before the event takes place in Pakse, Laos, on Friday. (ASEAN-Korea Center)

Now, the tourism industry is one of the major economic drivers for the country with a population of 800,000, following the mining industry, with the number of tourists having increased by an average of 17 percent since 2004.

Laos has become a popular holiday destination for Koreans, too, with some 96,000 tourists having visited the communist state in 2013.

To better cater to Korean tourists, Laos needs to understand Korean tourists who make way to Laos in search of an escape from the bustle of urban life, an expert said.

“Laos is appealing to Korean tourists as a destination to heal their worn-out minds and soul,” said Hwang Yeong-hyeon, the first presenter at the workshop and a professor at Dong-A University, explaining the tourism trend in Korea.

“That’s why Laos should focus on promoting eco-friendly tourism by setting up a system of preserving natural resources and redistributing revenues to enhance the system and improve locals’ lives,” Hwang said.

The professor also suggested that the government not be obsessed with the number of tourists and profits as long-term, sustainable development comes from how well natural resources are preserved now.

But the biggest hurdle facing Laos is a lack of finance to build infrastructure, conserve tourism sites and especially nurture human resources, the Laos government said.

“That’s why today’s seminar, no doubt, will be a stepping-stone for Laos to build capacity for Lao people in the tourism industry and, thus, promote the industry as a whole,” said Bounthong Divixay, governor of Champassak Provincial Government.

Launched in 2009 as a pan-Asia initiative, the ASEAN-Korea Center has carried out various programs including a trade fair, workshops and small and medium enterprise support programs in the 10 member countries to promote cultural, social and economic exchanges between Korea and ASEAN.

By Ock Hyun-ju, The Korea Herald correspondent (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)

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