THE LAO government has taken several steps to make it easier for Chinese nationals to visit Laos, such as reducing the visa fee from $14 to $10, Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Bosengkham Vongdara (pictured, Vientiane Times) said recently.
The minister outlined the measures at the recent Lao tourism promotion meeting in Shanghai.
The promotional gathering came after the two countries launched the Visit Laos-China Year 2019 campaign, which was agreed to by the leaders of the two countries.
As part of efforts to encourage more Chinese to visit Laos and Lao nationals to make trips to China, Bosengkham said the Lao government has reduced the visa fee for Chinese visitors. In addition, the authorities are printing tourism brochures in Chinese and adding Chinese language to signs at tourist attractions.
Laos has 27 international border crossings of which 22 can issue visas for visitors.
Land and air transport services have been improved to create more links between Laos and China.
Lao Airlines provides flights to China, while several Chinese airlines serve passengers from the two countries such as China Eastern, China Southern, Sichuan Airline and Hainan Airlines. Lao Airlines recently began operating three flights a week from Vientiane to Shanghai.
For Lao nationals entering China, officials are exempt from a visa requirement, while ordinary passport holders are required to pay a visa fee of $15.
Infrastructure links with neighbours
Looking to the future, the Laos-China railway is under construction and is expected to be complete in 2021. The railway will be a key driver of tourism and trade between Laos and China and between China and Asean.
Laos and China launched Visit Laos-China Year 2019 on January 25. The two countries have arranged several activities aimed at tourists throughout the year.
In 2017, at least 640,000 Chinese visited Laos, rising to almost 800,000 last year – a 25 per cent increase. This year, the authorities expect the number to double compared to last year.
Bosengkham said Laos has developed infrastructure to link with other countries and tourist attractions have been improved. Many places now focus on community-based tourism with the aim of easing poverty in rural areas.
Also speaking at the meeting in Shanghai, officials from the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism said that over the past 40 years, China’s economy has grown rapidly, especially in Shanghai, which is the leading commercial centre in Eastern China. Shanghai has many places of interest to visitors and generates a significant portion of China’s outbound tourists.
Chinese officials pointed out that Laos has a good climate, beautiful scenery, and is peaceful. It is a paradise for people seeking adventure and the country is unique in South East Asia in appealing to Chinese visitors.
Last year, overall visitor arrivals topped 4.1 million, up 8.2 per cent compared to 2017, according to Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism statistics.
Visitor numbers from Asean countries in particular were up, including from Thailand, with almost two million Thais visiting Laos, an increase of seven per cent over 2017.
More than 800,000 tourists came from China, an increase of 26 per cent, while more than 174,000 South Koreans visited Laos – an increase of two per cent.
But while visitor numbers increased last year, the total number fell short of the government’s target of five million. VIENTIANE TIMES/ANN