DestinationsWhy this tour operator believes that slow tourism will be the smart way to go as Laos fully reopens its borders.

Reopening Laos: Slow and steady wins the travel race

Laos has fully reopened its borders on Monday 9 May, allowing fully vaccinated travellers to enter the country without any testing requirements.
Laos has fully reopened its borders on Monday 9 May, allowing fully vaccinated travellers to enter the country without any testing requirements. Photo Credit: Gettyimages/Sophie Dover

At long last, Laos has fully reopened its borders on Monday 9 May, allowing fully vaccinated travellers to enter the country without any testing requirements.

All international checkpoints, including air, land and water, will be open for entry and exit by Lao citizens, foreign residents, tourists, and other types of visitors, announced the Prime Minister’s Office over the weekend.

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Laos is among the last countries in Southeast Asia to fully reopen its international borders. While other ASEAN nations such as Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam had began progressing unlocking their borders since early 2022 to foreign visitors, Laos has not unveiled any official opening moves until this month.

Vietntiane-based inbound tour operator Laurent Granier, who is co-founder and general manager of Laos Mood Travel, shares his thoughts on the country's reopening.

What have you been hearing from overseas travel agents and planners all these while? Have you been getting more queries lately?

Some of our closest agents have always shown some interest and care. We have rescheduled trips for plans that date back to over two years ago.

However, I am confident business will pick up nicely and steadily. It will not skyrocket obviously, but we already hear returns of airline frequencies and capacities, starting with Vientiane. We hope Luang Prabang follows next.

We still do not have direct air access. We hope announcements will be done soonest so at least the next high season is secured as early as possible.

In the summer, we will get a few FITs who will be flexible, so Vientiane as point of entry/exit will be fine. We bet a few travellers will still combine with Cambodia, as overland crossing is now possible.

But I expect a good deal of our time will be spent on scheduling and explaining what we are up to. Fortunately, almost all restrictions are lifted, so it is easy to get the point.

What has Laos Mood Travel been up to in gearing up for reopening? What will be your biggest update for partners?

Our remaining staff and business partners are super excited. We look forward to securing a few bookings, improving our cash flow and building back a solid team when volumes pick up.

We have been working on unique themed itineraries for vegans, single parent families, glamping, etc. We are more ready than ever to tackle special requests and add value through our thick network of local stakeholders who will make the trips memorable.

We will keep advocating for Laos-only programmes to avoid uncertainty of combined tours. We will push for tours that stay longer at each place visited, hopping less often and going deeper into the destination. We will move toward "slow tourism" because it makes sense experience-wise, but also to avoid lengthy journeys overland by vehicle or boat due to increasing fuel cost.

Do you reckon Laos' slow tourism positioning will shine more than ever as borders reopen?

Yes, definitely. For instance, there is still plenty to do to pleasantly surprise visitors to Vientiane. But we will have to be good at arguing in favour of slow tourism because we have already start receiving inquiries that are based on old fashioned ways of thinking Laos.

Plus, Laos now has a high-speed train, so that opens up new opportunities.

More is not always the best in travel. We planners sense that travellers do not realise that Laos stretches 2,000 kilometres from north to south. It is not wise to want to "do it all" in a week's time.

Each country deserves the full attention of planners and travellers alike.

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