Bangkok, Thailand, December 18 – Laos has announced plans to partially reopen to foreign travelers in the new year, providing a lifeline for the tourism industry after borders were sealed for more than 18 months to keep Covid out.
Fully vaccinated visitors on pre-booked tours will be able to enter the capital Vientiane, the ecotourism hotspot Vang Vieng and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Luang Prabang from January 1, state media reported on Friday.
Other destinations will be opened up in April and July as vaccination rates rise in Laos.
However, entry will only be possible for tourists from 17 nations, mainly from Southeast Asian and European countries as well as from China, the United States, Australia and Canada.
All visitors must also be tested negative for Covid prior to arrival.
The withdrawn communist nation opened a $ 6 billion Beijing-built railroad this month connecting its capital with the southwestern city of Kunming.
Health officials are now rushing to deliver Covid booster vaccinations to people who live in tourist spots along the railway line in anticipation of an influx of travelers.
Before the pandemic, Laos received around 4.7 million foreign tourists each year.
However, Covid resulted in an 80 percent drop in international visitor numbers in 2020, with the economy stalling despite very few coronavirus cases in Laos in the early stages of the pandemic.
According to the World Bank, economic growth fell to 0.4 percent in 2020, the lowest in three decades.
Hopes for a recovery in 2021 have been dashed after infection numbers skyrocketed in recent months.
About Laos Ballooning Adventures, based in Vang Vieng, stated that it used to do two hot air balloon flights a day during the high season.
But these days, the small business is fortunate enough to receive a single booking, even on weekends, manager La Noy told AFP.
Alex Tran, owner of the Camellia Hotel in Vang Vieng, said sales fell 95 percent because of the border closings.
“Many hotels in Vang Vieng are empty and have been temporarily closed for around two years because there are no tourists,” he told AFP.
There aren’t enough domestic travelers to sustain the sector, he added.
“It should get better after the New Year,” said Tran.