2022: A Unique Opportunity to Discover the Land of a Million Elephants – A Short Q&A With Anong, Country Director for Laos.

A veteran of the Lao tourism industry, Phetanong Phonsavath (Anong) has been passionately caring for visiting travelers for over 15 years. She joined the Easia Travel team in 2014 as the Operation Manager before working her way up to the position of Laos Country Director. Since then, she has successfully built up and strengthened the on-site team, developed incredible signature products alongside the production team, and worked hard to make Easia one of the most competitive and professional DMCs in Laos.

With Laos opening its doors to international travel and tourism from the 1st of January 2022, now is the perfect time to reconnect with this magical destination and learn a bit more about what it has to offer.

In this interview, Anong answers some questions about the destination and explains why traveling to Laos in 2022 will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a remarkable chance to visit the Land of a Million Elephants and uniquely experience its beauty and authenticity!

Q: What was the impact of the covid-19 crisis on Laos?

Laos was left relatively unscathed throughout the pandemic, with mostly imported cases of Covid-19, caught in quarantine, brought back by Lao migrant workers returning home from the surrounding countries.

For a long time, life went on pretty much as usual, without restrictions, and with a small domestic tourism drive that kept most businesses open, just about covering their costs but not thriving. Quite a few companies that catered to foreign clients and could not adapt to the smaller local market sadly did end up closing their doors, some temporarily, some permanently. Many workers from the tourism industry who lost their jobs went back to their family farms in the countryside as there isn’t much else to do in Laos other than work in tourism or work on a farm.

Around April 2021, we started to see community transmission in Laos. This led to several extended national lockdowns to try to stamp out the spread of the virus. As the restrictions kicked in, people started to struggle more, and those who were still hanging around the towns and cities slowly started to head back to the countryside as well. Everything quickly closed down, shops and homes were shuttered, temple gates were locked, and everything went eerily quiet.

Then we got the vaccines! The vaccination campaign has been a big success, with Laos exceeding its target for 2021, allowing it to reopen its borders to international travelers. The dark cloud that was hovering over the country started to move away with this positive news, and our beautiful destination began to wake up from its long slumber. Businesses are slowly beginning to reopen and get ready to welcome back foreign travelers. The temple gates are unlocked, the monks in their saffron-colored robes wander the streets again, and there is an energy in the air. That hasn’t been felt for a very long time!

Our incredible vaccine rollout, as well as the government’s LaoSafe health and hygiene training and certification, are just a couple of the reasons why you needn’t hesitate to recommend our beautiful Laos as a Covid-safe destination to your clients!

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Q: How did Easia Travel Laos survive the crisis? What have you done during these 18 months without travelers?

Easia Laos has had a hard time, like every other tour company globally. It’s been a rough two years for the Easia Laos family and, even though we may not all see each other and work together as much as we used to, we’re all still keeping in touch. Everyone is extremely eager to return to the happy times of days gone by when business gets back to normal!

Over the past two years, we’ve spent a lot of time on self-reflection and reconnecting with our values. The extra time we’ve had has been a sort of blessing that has allowed us to look deeply at how we work and what kind of an impact we want to have on our travelers, our communities, and our surrounding environment. We’ve put a lot of effort into our sustainability commitments and worked hard to become one of Laos’s few Travelife Certified companies. As people are now starting to look for what’s ‘real and meaningful in life, we’re confident that our focus on sustainability can help your travelers get back to basics, reconnect with nature, and even with themselves!

We also spent this time reconnecting with the destination, exploring new places, and re-igniting our passion for this fantastic place that we call home. Much of what we’ve been working on is directly related to the market trends of the post-Covid new-normal world. We’re excited to share some fantastic new products with you, such as our new Self-Guided-Tours, carefully crafted and the perfect way to satisfy clients who want to avoid sizeable join-in tour groups!

Right now, we’re slowly rebuilding the team and getting everything up and running again. We’re so excited about the reopening and being able to welcome back your travelers!

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Q: What do you think traveling to Laos in 2022 will be like?

Traveling in 2022 in Laos will most likely be pretty quiet. It’s pretty well known that Laos has always been one of the least-visited Southeast Asian destinations, and that’s not going to change overnight. But we don’t believe that’s a bad thing – yes, it’s not ideal for business, but the travel experience is fantastic!

Travelers will have the chance to discover a country as though they were the first explorers to ever set foot in it. There won’t be crowds; there won’t be chaos – there will be an authentic culture, some of the friendliest people in the world, the best cuisine in Asia (that’s our opinion, of course!), and the stunning natural beauty that Laos is so famous for, and all of that just for the lucky few who come to visit!

It’s also likely that those who venture to Laos will spend longer here and discover the destination in more depth than they would have previously. Not only to limit the hassle that there may be with the border crossings on multi-destination tours but also to slow down the pace and relax a bit after the madness and chaos of the last few years. I think everyone needs a relaxing vacation now, right?

Now is the perfect time for all of us to rebuild, embrace new, exciting and lucrative opportunities, and maximize the potential that Laos represents!

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Q: Finally, what is the reopening outlook for Laos?

As I mentioned earlier, the vaccination campaign has succeeded in Laos. The whole pandemic response has been a resounding success. We’ve had a lot fewer cases of Covid-19 than most other countries in the world!

We’ve also recently had the rollout of the LaoSafe program to provide training and safety protocols to businesses in the tourism supply chain. This is a great initiative that will build on the Covid-19 Travelife training, which our team has had, and the Easia Covid-19 Safety protocols we’ve been working with our suppliers.

These are just a few reasons why the government decided to reopen the borders earlier than expected. It was indeed a welcome surprise and an encouraging end to 2021! The reopening started on the 1st of January and is planned to be in 3 phases, with the restrictions slowly being rolled back to have a full reopening sometime around July 2022. Under the Green Zone tourism plan, we’re now able to welcome your fully vaccinated travelers back to Laos with just a short (max 24h) wait at the hotel for the PCR test results!

We hope you’re as excited as we are!

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