Dr. Bosengkham Vongdara, Minister, Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism in Lao PDR, describes preparations for the ASEAN Tourism Forum which takes place 17-24 January 2013 and elaborates on how Laos' tourism can capitalise on ASEAN integration
1. What has been the biggest challenge preparing Vientiane for ATF 2013?
Because Vientiane is quite a small city with a lot of tourism demand in January, the biggest challenge has been arranging available hotel rooms for all ATF guests. And getting the transport arrangements right.
2. What benefits do you think will come to Laos from ATF 2013?
More business and job creation opportunities through an expanded visitor economy. Laos is still a developing country. Our people need more opportunities. Tourism and support from ASEAN visitors will help us. We are grateful for the opportunity to host ATF 2013.
3. What does Laos hope to achieve by the hosting of ATF 2013?
We hope to build awareness of our eco products for adventurous tourists. But we also want to tell them that after a day of elephant or boat riding they can relax in a beautiful boutique hotel with friendly service, smiling faces all round -- and have a nice glass of wine with a delicious meal. It's the perfect end to a perfect day in Laos.
4. As a host of ASEAN Tourism Ministers Meeting in 2013, what would be your recommendations about promoting tourism in ASEAN countries?
We need to be aware of latest trends. On the demand side that means maximising social and digital media marketing and taking advantage of mobile device usage among a young and increasingly affluent demographic in ASEAN countries who like to travel. On the supply side, ASEAN needs to work hard to ensure ecological and cultural sustainability. Otherwise, each destination will lose its unique appeal.
5. Should the message for ASEAN tourists be different for tourists outside the region -- say in Japan, Middle East or Europe?
AEC has focused everyone's mind on what ASEAN is, so there is increased understanding within ASEAN countries about which countries are in the grouping and what their destination strengths are and what their human resource strengths and weaknesses are. ASEAN is becoming more like a united family grouping. However, because ASEAN is so diverse we need to look at clever and exciting ways to promote niche activities such as dining, community tourism, shopping, UNESCO heritage tours, honeymoons, incentives and ecotourism.
6. The ten destinations of ASEAN are very diverse. To what extent is that a help or a hindrance when promoting ASEAN as a destination?
Let a million flowers bloom. Variety is good in tourism as in life. ASEAN benefits from its amazing diversity, cultural heritage and warmth of its people.
7. Can ASEAN promote niche activities such as adventure, experiential, business and long stay -- as well as mass tourism? How?
Yes, easily. One of the strengths of diversity is that ASEAN has something for everyone. Whatever niche activity you like, you can do it here. And if you want to be driven around in a group tour bus from one main attraction to another you can do that too.
8. What needs to be done to make the ASEAN tourism region more user-friendly for investors?
I think economic growth is pretty much guaranteed. But that alone is not enough. Of course we need more transparency and accountability if we are to deliver a return on investment for investors. Singapore has set the best example within ASEAN.
9. In your view, what are the key sales and promotional points that ASEAN should be promoting to tourists in ASEAN and beyond?
I would say exciting multi-country trips. Our food. Our heritage sites. And great shopping bargains. These are my favourite things.
10. What are the main challenges for the tourism sector in ASEAN ahead of AEC 2015?
Human Resource Development because tourism is growing so quickly. The challenge is producing enough talented people to service the growth.
11. How does the tourism industry in Laos feel about the advent of AEC 2015?
We are in favour of it. If it is good for ASEAN, it is good for Laos.
12. Where do the priorities for ASEAN tourism integration lie -- with the private sector or government sector?
We have to walk hand in hand. To maximise returns on investment, the public and private sectors have to be working as one team.
13. Laos is big on ecotourism. Is ecotourism synonymous with budget travel? Why?
No, you can have ecotourism at any price point -- budget to luxury. The uniting feature is a love of Mother Nature. And we have some beautiful National Protected Areas, waterfalls, rivers, caves, mountains and wildlife in Laos. As an eco tourism destination, Laos is hard to beat.
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