The South-east Asia Special: Laos

New hotels, rich culture and pristine nature make Laos a rising favourite among incentive groups desiring something unique

Picturesque Nam Song River in Vang Vieng, Laos

Laos is emerging as a top destination that ticks all the boxes for innovative incentive travel as new offerings help plant it on the map.

A major game-changer in the country’s burgeoning MICE landscape is the recent introduction of products and facilities that can cater to larger groups.

Picturesque Nam Song River in Vang Vieng, Laos

Georgie Walsh, general manager, Diethelm Travel Laos, said: “In the last decade, options for MICE groups have expanded immensely, especially in Luang Prabang.”

She noted in 2010, the country’s top tourist destinations could only receive groups of about 60 pax maximum. “Even at this number, groups were split across separate hotels and had to have activities swapped.”

In contrast, today, there are properties with enough rooms for groups of more than 100 pax. New activities include Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden and Heuan Chan Heritage, while restaurants, such as Manda de Laos and Le Calao, can cater for more than 100 pax.

Andrea Vinsonneau, events manager at EXO Travel Laos, echoed this sentiment, adding that the opening of the Pullman Luang Prabang in July 2018 has dramatically changed things. The 123-key property also boasts a conference centre for up to 300 pax.

Vinsonneau said Laos previously lost business because of the lack of facilities for large groups. She said: “The Pullman has massively changed things, and as more hotels with more rooms and facilities come along, that will continue.”

Improved connectivity has also been a key player in driving forward business travel, opined Laurent Granier, co-founder and general manager, Laos Mood Travel.

The country has direct connections with four South-east Asian hubs and several to China. Thai Smile operates an early-morning flight between Bangkok and Luang Prabang while Thai Airways recently introduced a larger aircraft to its night flight from Vientiane to Bangkok.

Industry players say Laos will continue to do well as an incentive travel destination.
Ora-uan Maharpol, manager, MICE by ICS, said Laos is especially popular for small incentive groups seeking more intimate and unique experiences.

Added Maharpol: “The rich culture and history provide wellness, cultural and art-based events. Charming Indochinese boutique hotels and renovated villas provide a chic backdrop for product launches, while the wild untouched nature is the perfect playground for adventurous teambuilding activities.”

Meanwhile, EXO welcomes incentive and teambuilding groups of 20 to 80 participants, with Vinsonneau noting that Laos is becoming increasingly attractive as an add-on for small groups, such as board meetings, looking for a boutique destination.

Since the Pullman’s soft opening in July 2018, Patrick Basset, Accor’s chief operating officer for Upper Southeast and Northeast Asia and the Maldives, has noticed a shift in focus.

He said: “We see a good a balance between meetings, incentive groups, conferencing and events, and we believe the whole segment has high potential in Laos. Traditionally, MICE has been weak due to the country’s small average room inventory, lack of meeting facilities, limited flight connectivity and strict UNESCO site regulations.”

Looking to the future, stakeholders claim Lao holds huge potential as more hotels, conference centre and activities are unveiled. Basset added that the opening of the Vientiane-Boten Railway Route in 2022, will bring increased demand from Thailand and China, allowing for greater MICE business.

However, Maharpol warned: “This is not your ‘run of the mill’ MICE destination; it requires professional organisers who understand the uniqueness of Laos.”

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