Luang Prabang, 21 September 2017.  The Lao Business Forum (LBF) Secretariat and its government focal point convened two provincial private sector focus group meetings in Luang Prabang for key stakeholders in the handicraft, hotel, restaurant and tour operator sectors.   These meetings constitute a key part of LBF’s mandate to facilitate public and private sector dialogue and ensure the active engagement of the broadest spectrum of companies, particularly at the provincial level.

 

The handicraft sector focus group took place during the morning, and the hotel, restaurant and tour operator focus group occurred in the afternoon.  The handicraft meeting was co-chaired by Mr. Bounthieng Soulivanh, President of the Luang Prabang Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LPCCI); and Ms. Valy Vetsaphong, Vice President of the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LNCCI).   The hotel, restaurant and tour operator focus group session was co-chaired by Mr. Bounthieng of the LPCCI and Mr. Oudet Souvannavong, President of LNCCI.   There were 52 participants in both sessions, including LBF Secretariat team.  15 private sector representatives attended the handicraft focus group and 31 attended the hotel, restaurant and tour operator focus group.

In his opening remarks during the handicraft focus group meeting, Mr. Bounthieng welcomed the visitors from Vientiane and encouraged the active engagement of the private sector participants.  Ms. Valy provided a brief overview of LBF and discussed how both Luang Prabang and Champasak will be pilot provinces for LBF’s provincial public-private dialogue strategy.

Participants in the morning session identified a long list of 8 key issues in the handicraft sector.  They further reduced this list through a filtering exercise and 3 priority issues were selected:  1) a need for increased technical assistance to improve the quality of handicraft products to make them more export-competitive; 2) increased domestic market access for handicraft producers (i.e., better access to handicraft villages as well as permanent facilities or venues where they can sell their products; 3) increased access to finance.

During the afternoon session, Mr. Bounthieng welcomed the participants and Mr. Oudet provided a brief overview of the LBF concept.  Mr. Phouxay Theppavong, Secretary General of LNCCI, discussed the results of LBF 10 as well as plans for follow-up LBF Private Sector Working Group (PSWG), and Public-Private Consultation meetings (PPC), including an upcoming PPC meeting in Luang Prabang in November or December 2017. 

Participants in the hotel, restaurant and tour operator focus group identified a long list of 21 issues which was reduced to 5 priority issues:  1) lack of communication from the government on its plans for the 2018 Visit Lao Program; 2) need for maintenance of key tourist sites in Luang Prabang; 3) need for road improvements, particularly at tourist sites; 4) government authorities need to adopt a more customer-friendly approach in their interaction with tourists; 5) excessive regulatory and documentation requirements for tour operators. 

In their closing remarks, Mr. Bounthieng and Mr. Oudet expressed their sincere appreciation to the participants for their enthusiastic participation in the focus groups and assured them that these meetings were the first phase of a sustained effort – including the organization of a PPC meeting in Luang Prabang later in the year -  to ensure that their voices are reflected in the LBF dialogue process. 

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