We Are Lao is releasing the second annual “MICE Guide to Laos” at ITB Berlin 2020 on 4-9 March, with eight additional hotels joining the charge to attract business events and incentive groups to “The Last Frontier”.
The guide, also available for downloading as an e-brochure, now features 24 hotels with modern event venues and facilities, and support from diverse Lao tourism stakeholders. They see the country’s potential as a niche and safe MICE destination nested in untouched nature, culture, and heritage.
“‘Something unique, different, off the beaten path,’ is what I have heard a lot recently,” said David Allan, General Manager of Luang Prabang-based Tiger Trail, a top Lao incentive operator. “People have been to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Singapore…Laos offers everything these groups are looking for: top-class facilities, hotels, great dining, amazing heritage and culture, and fewer people.”
Asian Trails Laos General Manager Laetitia Law-Lai added, “It’s also the charm of Laos, a destination offering us the opportunity to create intimate and authentic experiences.”
Amari Vang Vieng Sales Director Chatcheeva Srikurt feels the same vibe. “From what I have seen with previous groups, they are experiencing something different than big cities. They enjoy the natural atmosphere, touched with culture and surrounded by mountain views,” she said. “River views make them feel calm and relaxed, even if they are coming for a formal meeting.”
Riverside Boutique Resort Co-Owner Stéphane Vigié leans the same way. “Vang Vieng in particular has plenty to offer to meeting and event organisers, who need not just a venue, but a range of activities conducive to team building and out-of-the-box thinking.”
However, he noted that Vang Vieng and Lao MICE in general face an uphill climb. “The main challenges are competition coming from experienced and well-equipped neighbors, as well as infrastructure and communication.”
Ms Law-Lai brings rates into the equation. “I am the former MICE Manager of Asian Trails Cambodia, and suppliers (there) are very flexible in terms of rates for MICE groups. Here, suppliers tend to stick to their contract rates.” She said groups eyeing Laos are often lost to neighbouring countries with wiggle room.
Luang Say Residence General Manager Francis Fernandes has observed similar bumps in the road in Luang Prabang, including shortages in well-equipped venues, skilled labour, and air access for large groups.
But, he sees a silver lining for the UNESCO World Heritage city. “(Luang Prabang is a) pretty laid back town for relaxation. MICE travellers can be converted into leisure travellers, who spend their time and money on sightseeing activities.”
Souphattra Hotel Luang Prabang General Manager Gary Tyson also acknowledges the growing pains, while remaining optimistic and seeking solutions.
“I see huge potential for MICE in the capital Vientiane and in Luang Prabang,” he said. “There are now so many more options in the country, with a wide range in Vientiane for larger groups and in Luang Prabang for small to medium groups.”
Much like his colleagues, Mr Tyson feels that the market lacks awareness in the country and its destinations, and it is difficult to compete on price and access with neighbouring countries.
“To overcome this, we need to work closely together and with our agents specialising in MICE, our airline partners, as well as the tourism department to make sure we offer a unique product that MICE groups cannot find elsewhere in the region.”
Ms Law-Lai also points to a need for marketing. “Laos is a little-known country, and I don’t see many initiatives from the government to promote our beautiful destination.”
Lao Poet Hotel Vientiane General Manager Franck Delen also believes Laos and its MICE sector must keep heading towards the spotlight. “The first main issue is that of marketing, and we have definitely seen some effort (in this direction) from the government and hospitality professionals over the last year or two,” he said.
“To generate awareness, we need to be proactive,” said Luang Prabang View General Manager John Morris Williams. “We need to create a ‘Friends of Laos’ page for MICE to touch base with the world, and work with airlines to offer free seats for FAM trips to bring in decision-makers to explore one of Asia’s last frontiers.”
Mr Williams also wants to sit down with the government and “establish a better dialogue between the public and private sectors, and make a plan or set out a road map for bringing people to Laos…and MICE is the fastest way to achieve this in any country.”
Settha Palace Hotel General Manager Andrew Gianfranco-Cotel views MICE through regional eyes, and he sees plusses. “One advantage that Laos has is that it is centrally located and surrounded by Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and China…There is a lot of potential for Vientiane to attract external MICE business from these five countries and beyond.”
He said, “As the Lao economy continues to grow, internal MICE business will grow as well,” adding, “Vientiane, being the capital city of the country, makes it a logical choice as a destination for MICE.”
Southern Laos has plenty to offer MICE, as it continues hunting for its market and remains relatively undiscovered. “The key to success is how to approach the right target audience with the right way of communication,” said Champasak Grand Hotel Manager Korlarp Kaewthai.
“Pakse already has four MICE-ready hotels and a newly built event hall in town,” said Dyan Barutzki, Marketing Advisor at Swiss Contact Laos, noting the destination is “still largely undiscovered by international companies…the secret is not yet out.”
ITB delegates can get a copy of “MICE Guide to Laos” at the Lao booth located at Hall 26B, Booth 215, at Asian Trails at Hall 26B – Booth 206, or download the .pdf version below.
The German Development Cooperation (GIZ) supported the publishing of “The MICE Guide to Laos”.
Written by: Bernie Rosenbloom