by SUCHAT SRITAMA
THAILAND'S DESIGNATED Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (DASTA) is coming up with a plan to improve infrastructure and prepare routes to cash in on the growing traffic with Laos.
The move is aimed at drawing visitors, particularly adventure-seeking and high-spending tourists, from the two nations and also from third countries into the region.
Viroj Jivarangsan, governor of Loei province, said yesterday that DASTA, the tourism coordinator, was working with authorities and the private sector in the border city of Loei and Luang Prabang in Laos on plans to improve tourism infrastructure, air connectivity, and land and water travel, including a new loop of the two cities.
The discussion is an extension of an agreement that the two nations entered to co-develop cross-border travel between four provinces in Thailand - Loei, Nong Khai, Udon Thani and Nong Bua Lamphu - and four areas in Laos - Vientiane, Vientiane prefecture, Xayaburi and Luang Prabang.
The Cabinet approved the plan to link Loei and Luang Prabang and passed it on to DASTA for implementation. DASTA's office in Loei is transforming the province into a special area for the development. Also, the National Tourism Committee has vowed to support the project.
"This year, DASTA will combine Loei and Luang Prabang into one route, as these two cities have a similar culture and tourism products. The route is claimed as an emerging destination in the Mekong River [region] compared with other developed routes such as Vientiane and Nong Khai and Udon Thani," he said.
DASTA will soon propose to the government that it turn Loei Airport into an international airport.
The agency also urged Loei to upgrade its three border passes from temporary to permanent status and extend their closing time from 6pm to 10pm.
DASTA will ask the government this month to build a cable car in Phukradung National Park. The project at the famous mountain has been tried for 34 years, but DASTA's latest study found that it would cost Bt633 million.
The construction project needs Cabinet approval first.
Khamkhan Chanthavisouk, governor of Luang Prabang, said Laos was ready to work on the project with Thailand and a joint working group would be established soon.
"As an invitation was received from the Thai side, the public and private sectors in Luang Prabang |will organise a familiarisation trip|to Loei in December to promote |new cross-border routes," he said.
The two cities have also teamed up to promote cruises on the Mekong River as well as two-way travel.
Last year, Loei welcomed 1.5 million visitors, who contributed revenue of Bt3 billion to Bt4 billion. More than 90 per cent were locals. Luang Prabang received 370,000 tourists, mostly from Thailand, Europe, China, the United States and South Korea. Luang Prabang aims to increase visitor numbers to 390,000 this year and 700,000 in 2020.
Vongdavone Vongxayarath, director of promotion and marketing at Laos' Department of Information-Cultural and Tourism, said the fam trip would help promote border attractions and would encourage adventure-seekers and quality tourists to come to the region.
"The former capital Luang Prabang is developing tourism infrastructure and improving facilities in a bid to cope with the growth of tourism," he said.
The city offers 5,000 rooms in 77 hotels, resorts and guest houses ranging from Bt300 to Bt75,000 per night.
At least five airlines serve Luang Prabang International Airport - Bangkok Airways, Vietnam Airlines, China Airlines, Lao Airlines and Thai Smile Airways.
Several Thai investors have opened hotels and restaurants in Luang Prabang including Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi.
The move to boost tourism between the Northeast of Thailand and Laos is expected to drive the economy in the region when the 10 Asean nations merge into one as the Asean Economic Community next year.
DASTA has developed many projects including low-carbon tourism in Koh Mak, marine tourism in Phuket and cruising in Pattaya.