Dr. Klaus Schwettmann, senior advisor for sustainable tourism
Vientiane, Laos | Dec. 24, 2009
Dr. Schwettmann holds a PhD in Biology and has been living and working in Laos since 1997. He founded the elephant observation tower at Ban Na village, an eco-tourism project to protect the endangered elephants in the Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area. Currently, the elephant observation tower is entirely managed by the local community. More information can be found at www.centraltrekkinglaos.com.
Dr. Schwettmann is also the senior advisor for sustainable tourism at Green Discovery, an adventure travel and eco-tourism tour operator in Laos.
LPT: What do you think about tourism in Laos?
Dr. Schwettmann: There are two views, of course. My personal view of tourism is that it’s definitely needed and tourism is one of the pillars for the economy in Laos now. Tourism is for sure good even if there are many, many negative sides you see. So that’s why I can probably help to avoid the negative sides.
LPT: One thing I’ve noticed about traveling in Laos is there are a lot of local travel agencies focusing and promoting eco-tourism, fair-treks and community based tourism. Is that an accurate perception and why do you think that is?
Dr. Schwettmann: You are correct. It was really an initiative from the government – The Lao National Tourism Administration. A big potential in Laos is eco-tourism because of the unspoiled nature. And so the neighboring countries, do not have forests anymore: Vietnam – nothing; Thailand – nothing. Burma is politically isolated and Cambodia hasn’t much as well so Laos still has a lot of unspoiled nature. There are also a lot of ethnic minorities, also still (culturally) unspoiled. This is one of the reasons (for eco-tourism), the ethnic minorities.
The Lao National Tourism Administration made and prepared a very, very good paper for the plan(National Ecotourism Strategy and Action Plan 2005-2010*). That (plan), I think, is state of the art. So there was a lot of push by Mr. Steven Schipani (senior eco-tourism advisor) there. He is really the strong hand behind that. And then there was another…Dr. Paul Rogers. He (Schipani) worked with the idea and helped to draft the eco-tourism strategy and so forth. So the Lao government got a lot of assistance from foreigners. And it’s very well done and this was accepted by or enacted by the Lao government.
And I think you hear the prime minister (of Laos) sometimes saying eco-tourism is really an important thing. The revenue for the state commerce is really…I think tourism was once the main source of foreign exchange for the country.
LPT: What are some negatives you see?
I mean, mass tourism is in my personal view not very good and sometimes the attitude of tourists is not good. Of course, with tourism, the negative things like prostitution or drugs. Laos is known for the drugs so many come here and think they can do what they want and so on. Fortunately it’s not that easy anymore.
On the other hand, I have to train the villagers that they understand what the tourists want, of course. The tourists have certain demands and many Lao people do not know this – this is normal. They do not know what is needed and expectations of the tourists. For example, cleanliness, service, attitude and so on.
1Lao National Tourism Administration, National Ecotourism Strategy and Action Plan 2005-2010 | http://www.ecotourismlaos.com/directory/publications/lao_nta_ecotourism_strategy.pdf