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Monday, 21 July 2014

Boosting Lao’s tourism sector

With more than 3.3 million travellers in 2012, Lao People's Democratic Republic is experiencing a significant increase in tourist arrivals. Out of the many destinations, the town of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, has become a special attraction for visitors from all over the world.

“The growth of Lao’s tourism sector is good news, however, it also poses potential risks for visitors, and the local environment and its inhabitants,” says Toshiyuki Miyake of UNIDO’s Trade Capacity Development Branch.

“The responsible use of resources and the safety of consumers are important matters. A tourism sector without occupational health and food safety standards can jeopardize the health of visitors as well as the sustainable economic growth of the town.”

To help face this challenge, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is working with the Lao National Institute for Tourism and Hospitality (LANITH) and other partners on implementing the project 'Safe and green tourism scheme'. Other UN agencies involved in the project include UNCTAD, ITC, ILO, and UNOPS. The project is funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

The 'Safe and green tourism scheme', launched in 2014, is helping promote sustainable tourism principles and maintain a conformity system to ensure that these principles are in place and upheld. “The approach follows the successful 'Crowns for food hygiene' strategy developed and implemented by UNIDO in Sri Lanka which helped establish a non-profit certification body to support local economic development by providing internationally accepted and credible conformity assessment and training programmes,” explains Miyake.

The project also foresees developing a manual with specific requirements on environmental, occupational health and food safety matters, and a quality label for green and sustainable safe tourism to reward hotels and restaurants for complying with the scheme manual requirements.

Local experts are being trained as internationally registered auditors to assess the conformity to the scheme’s requirements. The local microbiology testing capacity is being expanded, laboratory experts are receiving training, and special guidance is offered to hotels to improve their compliance with food safety standards.

Khomsavanh Sisouphanh, who works as a chef at the Phouvao hotel, said she benefited a lot from the training: “I got knowledge about food safety and many other things related to the work in the kitchen that I never knew before, and can now bring this knowledge to other colleagues.

“Laos is on its way to developing a healthy and flourishing tourism sector. The success of the model shows that it can be reproduced using international best practices and adapting to local needs. Such models are sustainable and will not only benefit the guests and staff of hotels and restaurants but also the local tourism industry as a whole,” says Miyake.

The project is in line with UNIDO's mission to reduce poverty through inclusive and sustainable industrial development, where countries are given help to expand their productive sector, increase their participation in international trade and safeguard their environment.

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By Simone Carneiro
Posted July 2014