The Government of Lao PDR is committed to using tourism to promote sustainable economic development. It’s approach is to encourage independent travellers to pioneer new patterns, then to assist local communities to participate in enterprise around these patterns.
New Zealand has been assisting with this strategy ever since the Nam Ha Ecotourism Project in Luang Namtha from 1997-2008. Most recently, the Community-Based Tourism for Sustainable Economic Development (CBT-SED) Project ran from April 2011 to March 2014 with a total budget of USD$3,466,030. The project was implemented in 4 provinces - Khammouane, Xieng Khouang, Bolikhamxay and Luang Namtha. Funding was channelled to the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICT) and MICT led implementation.
A review of the CBT-SED project in February 2014 found that by funding a government programme, the project had harnessed a large part of MICT toward the project goals. In this respect, the project had succeeded spectacularly well. MICT and MFAT have an easy, open and mutually respectful partnership. The Project has achieved many useful outcomes, including significant new infrastructure such as the Plain of Jars Visitor Centre in Xieng Khouang.
The review recommended proceeding with a design that: builds commercial sustainability by encouraging the private sector to participate; leverages on New Zealand’s comparative advantage in tourism; takes a destination management approach; and demonstrates how Laos’ core strategy of following independent travellers can drive the growth of substantial, mainstream tourism as it has in New Zealand.