FOR a destination that has traditionally been reliant on its immediate neighbours for visitor arrivals, Laos is steadily emerging as a tourism force on its own, driven by the country's growing direct air links in the region.
Rising air connectivity has allowed the landlocked country to cushion impacts of adverse situations in neighbouring gateway cities better than previous years too.
Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, director general, tourism marketing department, Saly Phimphinith, said: “Based on feedback from industry members, the current Bangkok crisis has affected longhaul arrivals from Europe and the US as they usually fly into Laos via Bangkok. But source markets in Asia-Pacific like China, Japan and South Korea have not been affected as tourists from these countries can fly direct into Laos from Kunming, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.”
Saly added: “Our Asian markets are growing faster than European markets. Regional arrivals, especially from Thailand and Vietnam, are still increasing to reach around 20 per cent growth over last year.”
The top three source markets for Laos are currently Thailand, Vietnam and China respectively.
Japan is an “emerging market” for Laos, despite there being no direct flights between the two countries, according to Saly.
South Korean arrivals have surged 50 per cent from 2012 to 2013, fostered by direct air links provided by national carrier Lao Airlines and South Korean LCC Jin Air, plus higher investment in Laos by South Korean companies, he commented.
The rising Korean tide has propelled Lao Airlines to turn chartered services between Vientiane and Incheon into a regular route in October 2013, with daily flights operated on an Airbus A320 aircraft, according to Manivone Ratanavong, deputy director of the airline’s commercial department.
Manivone said: “For South Korea, we have other chartered flights to Busan and Jeju, usually during the January/February and May-July period.”
She added: “Hong Kong and Japan are the next cities on our network development strategy, but route expansion is currently limited until new aircraft arrives.”
Read more in TTG Official Show Daily – ATF 2014