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UNWTO, TripAdvisor Tackle Lao Tourism Marketing

April 9, 2014 Destination ASEAN No Comments Email Email

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) demystified the Japanese market, and TripAdvisor offered deeper insight into the world’s largest travel website during the 12th Lanith Symposium, “Marketing & Promoting Lao Tourism”, held at Lao Airlines’ Vientiane headquarters on Friday, 4 April, with 70-plus delegates seeking ways to boost the country’s tourism revenue.

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Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism Marketing Director Saly Phimphinith chaired the Lao National Institute of Tourism and Hospitality (Lanith) event supported by Luxembourg Development Cooperation, and stressed that though arrival numbers grew some 20% year-on-year in 2013 to close in on 4 million, the average expenditure per person/per trip of about US$160 lagged far behind the international average.

“We need to attract more big spenders, and hopefully this Lanith Symposium will help find a way to greater tourism expenditures,” Mr Phimphinith said.

Shintaro Hori, Deputy Chief of the UNWTO’s Asia-Pacific Support Office took the podium to explain how Laos can tap the lucrative Japanese market. He pointed out that Japanese visitor numbers to Laos are comparable to those from France, Korea, and the US. They stay an average of five to six days, and spend about US$400 per day.

Mr Hori said, “There is room for improvement (in growing arrivals),” stating that direct flights from Japan would increase the numbers, as Japanese travellers tend to visit destinations that are quick and easy to access. “However, Japanese airlines need to be convinced they will fill the seats,” he cautioned.

Mr Hori briefly discussed the demographics of Japanese tourists visiting Laos. UNWTO statistics show a trend towards active, high-income seniors and independent women travellers between 30 and 50 years of age coming to the country.

Mr Hori zeroed in on five areas that Japanese travellers require in a destination, and what Laos can do to satisfy these requests, which centre on fostering an atmosphere aimed at independent travellers.

Among the most challenging are creating a barrier-free environment for seniors and establishing an emergency medical system. Providing simple access to Japanese-language information takes less effort. “Establish an FIT environment to make it easy for independent travellers,” Mr Hori suggested, noting that signs, city maps, and information on public transport in Japanese would make a good start.

“The Japanese market also likes unique experiences and destinations. They want more than city sites in Vientiane and Luang Prabang,” Mr Hori said. Activities such as elephant training and village visits to experience different cultures attract the Japanese, but he emphasized that well-informed, Japanese-speaking guides are essential. “Tour operators are losing a lot of Japanese business just because they lack guides.”

TripAdvisor Destination Marketing Senior Sales Manager, APAC, Sarah Mathews, then showed how the top social media platform for posting tourism-related reviews goes a long way in influencing independent travellers’ decisions, while providing restaurants, hotels, attractions, tour operators’ activities, and government tourism boards with an effective avenue for promoting their businesses and destinations.

“TripAdvisor is a community for travellers to tell their story,” Ms Mathews said, pointing out that 90 users contribute a review every minute, and the site gets 260 million unique visitor hits each month. She added that TripAdvisor also opens the door for the travel trade to talk to this community at no cost by creating and managing a listing.

Key to reaping benefits from a TripAdvisor listing is to respond to both positive and negative reviews. “People love hearing from (hotel) general managers…and responses sway people’s decisions.” Ms Mathews said. “Some 78% (of TripAdvisor’s users) say this makes them believe the hotel cares, while 84% say responses to negative reviews increase their confidence,” as they show hotels care.

Mr Saly summed up the event by stating it was “filled with plenty of useful information, and we all learned a lot about promoting Laos from the speakers.” He concluded, “There are still many things to do to better market Laos tourism…These Lanith Symposia provide a good platform for public and private sector cooperation, and we need to work together to promote the country’s tourism and raise revenue.”

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