Local Lao companies keen to develop tourism in Attapeu

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Several companies are keen to develop the tourism industry in Attapeu after realising the province’s huge untapped potential for domestic and international visitors.

Director of the provincial Department of Planning and Investment, Soulichan Phonekeo, told Vientiane Times on Friday that business operators are primarily interested in attracting more visitors to places of natural beauty, such as waterfalls.Provincial authorities recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a local company to carry out a feasibility study for the development of Phafong waterfall, about 100km from the provincial capital.

“I think the company expects to spend about US$10 million to install facilities and create activities for visitors. Additionally, the company wants to construct a US$20-million hydropower project in the same area,” Soulichan said. Provincial authorities are also in the process of signing a concession agreement with another local company to build facilities at Xekonglay waterfall, some 72km from the provincial capital.

A survey and feasibility study for this project have been conducted over the past few years and the company is keen to set up home-stays and build small hotels, restaurants and other facilities.

In addition, other companies want to install visitor amenities at Huakhon waterfall, which is about 50km from the provincial capital. “A company that has enhanced tourist sites in Xekong province has expressed an interest in improving facilities at Huakhon waterfall,” Soulichan said. Typically Lao companies take the lead in upgrading tourist sites in Attapeu province. Some local companies have engaged in joint ventures with Thai companies to tap the potential for tourism.

“Our province will concentrate on developing road access to these waterfalls so that when developers complete their projects people can visit these places comfortably,” Soulichan said. One of the main challenges for Attapeu is poor road access, as provincial authorities lack sufficient funding to repair and build roads leading to all tourist attractions.

Without road access, it is a tough challenge to attract business support for the development of tourism in Attapeu. Attapeu is a relatively poor area located in the far south of Laos. Only about 100,000 tourists visit the province annually, despite the fact that it has several places of interest to explore.

Another challenge is that the number of Westerners visiting the province is small and the majority of tourists are Lao, Thai and Vietnamese.

Authorities hope to attract 150,000-200,000 visitors next year when they plan to organise activities for Visit Laos Year 2018.But critics say infrastructure and tourism development are the foundations for developing the main drawcards in Attapeu and progress must be made if the authorities want to attract more tourists.

Provincial authorities are working with Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia to explore tourism routes in order to link visitor attractions and package tours.

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