Vientiane city is likely to increase international fame among travelers as more chains look at opening properties in Laos’ capital city. Vientiane continues to attract the largest share of visitors to the country due to its strategic location on the Mekong River and its close proximity to Thailand. According to data from 2010 published by the Lao Ministry of Tourism, they were, in 2010, a total of 995,000 visitors to the capital, representing 25.5% of all visitors in the country. Measured in total arrivals at the border, both the Friendship Bridge between Vientiane in Nong Khai (Thailand) and Vientiane International Airport recorded 878,000 international arrivals in 2010, representing a market share of 35% over Laos total arrivals of 2.52 million.
Vientiane has the highest number of accommodation facilities in the country. In 2010, there were 378 hotels and guest houses with a total of 9,496 rooms. Over that total, the capital had 187 hotels with 6,785 rooms. As taken from statistics, most hotels remain small structures with an average of 36 rooms per establishment and an average occupancy of 65% in 2010. Most of the hotels cater to Thai or Asian low-middle budget travelers, as well as western backpackers. Larger hotels are limited to Lao Plaza Hotel (142 rooms), Mercure (170 rooms), and Don Chan Hotel (240 rooms).
For LANITH, Lao National Institute of Tourism and Hospitality (a project funded by Luxemburg), there is room for more properties targeting upscale travelers. From the million visitors expected in the Laotian capital by 2012, some 12% can be included within the category of high-spending medium- to long-haul travelers.
While the number of upscale travelers is due to grow over the coming years, Vientiane continues to lack high-quality accommodation of international standards. The capital has basically less than 10 hotels currently catering to a more sophisticated category: Settha Palace Hotel, Vientiane’s only colonial style hotel; Lao Plaza Hotel, an ageing five-star property bearing the “charm” of a soviet-style property; Don Chan Palace, Vientiane’s only high-rise hotel on the Mekong River; Ansara and Salana, two boutique hotels; and finally, the Mercure Vientiane, which is also starting to bear its age.
Accor Asia Pacific, the first international chain to have been present in Vientiane for a number of years, just signed an agreement to open a 64-room Ibis property by the end of 2012 in the Vientiane city center. The project is part of the group’s strategy to expand in the Greater Mekong sub-region (Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam). The group looks to have 15 hotels in the region by 2013.
LANITH has also secured from the Lao National Tourism Administration and Ministry of Education a prime riverfront plot adjacent to its school for the construction of a 75-100 room, international standard hotel. The project is still looking for private investors ready to put in an estimated US$12.5 million for the construction of the future property with the Lao government offering a negotiable long-term (40 years) land lease at favorable rates, as well as reduced or exemptions from import duties.
Early this year, the city planning and investment department announced plans to develop three islands on the Mekong River as “green resorts” for visitors to its capital Vientiane. The plan is in line with a complete overhaul of river banks in the city center. The resorts would be built on the river islands of Xingxou, Sangkhi, and Kangkhong in the Don Chan district, according to the Vientiane Times. Resorts would also provide water sport activities such as jet skiing and fishing. Total required investment is estimated at US$150 million. Finally, the lao-native boutique hotel chain Inthira – already with properties in Champassak, Thakek, Viang Vien, and Savannakhet – is now seriously looking at acquiring a property in Vientiane. “We look for an old colonial-style building as it is the commitment of our chain to protect our heritage. We are very seriously looking around the capital,” told Inthira Hotels owner Inthi Deuansavan.