Moves in Laos to promote Chinese tourism in the coming year will benefit mainly Chinese businesses already established in the impoverished Southeast Asian country, with ordinary Lao citizens less likely to cash in, Lao sources say.
Laos and China are now preparing together to launch a 2019 Visit Year campaign, Lao Minister of information, Culture and Tourism Bosengkham Vongdara announced following a meeting of the Lao government’s cabinet in September.
Planned activities are expected to bring at least one million Chinese tourists into the country during the year, the Minister said, quoted by local media.
Lao National Radio meanwhile welcomed the move, predicting that Chinese money will help support and strengthen the Lao economy.
Speaking to RFA’s Lao Service, however, the manager of a guesthouse in Luang Prabang city in northern Laos said that most of the money brought in will go to Chinese hotels and tour groups, with little benefit seen by Lao residents themselves.
“A lot of Chinese are coming, but the problem is that most of them will not stay at Lao guesthouses or hotels,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Most of them use their own services, and stay at hotels and use tours run by other Chinese,” he said. “They even have their own tour guides.”
'Zero Dollar Tours'
Also speaking to RFA, the owner of a hotel in the capital Vientiane agreed.
“The Chinese buy hotels, open their own restaurants, and run their own tours,” he said, also speaking on condition he not be named. “When Chinese tourists come, they stay and eat at those facilities.”
“They won’t go to Lao restaurants or businesses,” he added.
Some Lao tour operators call the Chinese-led tours “Zero Dollar Tours” because Lao businesses get nothing from them, sources say.
Chinese hotels and restaurants pay taxes to the Lao government, however, an official of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism told RFA.
"And many Chinese businesses are joint ventures, with Lao partners sharing 30 percent of the profits," the official said, adding, "We don't lose any advantage to the Chinese."
Chinese investment has ramped up in Laos in recent years, and with it have come several murders of high-profile ethnic Chinese businessmen and women.
The head of China’s Hunan Province Chamber of Commerce in Laos was murdered in August during an invasion of his home in the Lao capital Vientiane, authorities said, adding that an investigation into the case suggested robbery was the motive.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.