Luang phabang

The small landlocked ASEAN nation of Laos is increasingly becoming popular with travelers. International arrivals in Laos soared 22 per cent in 2012, hitting a record 3.3 million visitors. Previously, the Laos National Tourism Administration (LNTA) predicted 2012 figures would only reach 2.3 million. Thus reality proved better than expected.

LNTA has attributed several reasons to the tourism influx, one being the ecotourism industry. Ecotourism is based on the principle of sustainability. It is perfect for those who want to soak in nature; people who appreciate exotic wildlife. It can also serve as a way to support conservation endeavors as well as community development. This certainly is the case in Laos.

Not only does the country host untapped wildlife and scenery ideal for environmentally-keen folk, Laos also has government-backed ecotourism initiatives., for instance, the Sustainable Tourism Development Project (STDP). This particular project is co-funded by the Asian Development Bank. Aside from the goal of preserving the ecosystem, the STDP pushes for “pro-poor tourism” and human resource development. Essentially, bettering local communities and individuals via ecotourism.

Beyond the STDP, there is an entire website dedicated to supporting ecotourists in Laos,Ecotourism Laos. It advises tourists on the best natural landscapes in Laos. The website also offers transportation and travel tips and provides ecotourists with accommodation and tour information. Of course, only “eco-friendly” facilities and services are included.

For instance, travelers can consider the Kamu Lodge in Luang Prabang. Pictures of rooms on the well-designed website resemble a luxury hotel more than that of an actual lodge. Nonetheless, it does appear to be situated in the countryside. While staying at the Kamu Lodge one can partake in activities such as rice planting and harvesting, traditional net fishing and gold panning. Kamu Lodge also has a spa that overlooks the Mekong River, thus it is not all work and no play.

After perusing the reservation database it looks as though a room typically goes for $255 a night. Yes, $255. For comparison purposes: The World Bank recorded annual GNI per capita in Laos in 2011 at $2,580. Therefore one night at the lodge is about one-tenth of what a Laotian person makes a year. I think it is safe to say that staying at a place like the Kamu Lodge undoubtedly pumps revenue into the local community. That is, if funds are appropriated correctly.

Of course, there are other accommodation listings on Ecotourism Laos that fall into a lower price range than the example above, like around $50 per night. Moreover, there are also tour services like Green Discovery Laos. Depending on the location in Laos, an ecotourist can book a range of tours through Green Discovery from 3 day trekking excursions, overnight kayaking and even zip lining.

It seems clear that ecotourism is making a name for itself in Laos as an up-and-coming niche market. Obviously not everyone is wishing to drop over $250 bucks a night to plant rice. Or any price for that matter. But for those who enjoy that kind of rustic getaway, staying at an eco-hotel may indeed better lives of nearby Laotians by fueling money into the community. In the end, it is a win-win for both the nature-lover and villager.


Image Credit: By Axel (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

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