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Luang Namtha in northern Laos prepares for tourism growth

Luang Namtha provincial authorities are upgrading the standards of tourism entrepreneurs and facilities to meet an expected increase in the number of visitors.

The provincial tourism department yesterday organised a training course on hotel, guesthouse and restaurant services for staff and managers of these businesses.

Luang Namtha Vice Governor Phanthong Phitthomma told Vientiane Times on Tuesday in a telephone interview that the course was an effort to improve services.

The province has 67 guesthouses and hotels, but this is not enough to meet current demands and many of them need to be improved.

The province has encouraged Chinese investors to build two six-storey hotels in the provincial capital, Mr Phanthong said.

Luang Namtha authorities project the number of tourists will increase steadily over the next two years; the renovated airport and the new R3 highway both officially open next month.

The highway passes through the northern provinces of Luang Namtha and Bokeo, and is part of an arterial route linking Kunming in China with Bangkok , Thailand .

Mr Phanthong said the province is developing its road network and tourist infrastructure to facilitate more convenient travel.

Luang Namtha province has many tourist attractions such as the Nam Ha National Protected Area, a well known forested area, and the drawcard of cultural tourism due to the diverse ethnic groups with their unique lifestyles and traditions.

In 2006, more than 50,000 tourists visited the province, coming mostly from New Zealand , followed by France , the USA and the United Kingdom .

The Deputy Director of the province's Tourism Department, Mr Sengchanh Pasuetsak, said yesterday that most tourists arrive by road from Vientiane and others come from Thailand via Bokeo province on highway R3.

It is expected that tourist arrivals could rise to 80,000 by 2010, as the popularity of the province is just beginning to increase.

By Manichanh Pansivongsay

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