The tourism industry in Laos has reached its “moment of truth” and must immediately elevate its service quality to achieve the targeted US$1 billion in annual revenue by 2020. This is the view of Professor Kaye Chon, Dean and Chair Professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s School of Hotel & Tourism Management, and this year’s UNWTO Ulysses Prize winner, who recently addressed more than 100 travel industry leaders and students at the 4th Lanith Quarterly Symposium in Vientiane.
In his presentation, entitled ‘Enhancing Competitiveness through Service Quality’, Professor Chon, stressed that service standards must be raised.
“The tourism industry in Laos has advantages in its strong culture, friendly people, and unique attractions… [but] service quality at all visitor contact points needs to be continuously enhanced to ensure Lao tourism’s competitiveness,” he said.
Prof Chon went on to explain that memorable visitor experiences rely heavily on “moments of truth” – the personable interactions with travel-related staff, from immigration officers to hotel waiters.
“Tourists often remember their visits based on memorable experiences,” Professor Chon said. “Tourists may forget the places they visited, the hotels, or the meals, but they remember those moments of truth when service quality exceeds their expectations.”
He suggested that Laos’ tourism industry is now at its own ‘moment of truth’ – that opportune time to make its move in the fast-growing Asia Pacific tourism market – but stressed the country must raise the quality of skills training for the current workforce and education for tourism and hospitality students.
Korean-born Professor Chon also noted; “Service standards have historically been Western-focussed, but over the past 10 years, an Asian standard has emerged - the so-called Asian Wave.”
Professor Chon pointed out that the of the Lao National Institute of Tourism & Hospitality (Lanith) is well positioned to deliver high-quality training and education for successfully hopping on the Asian Wave. Lanith offers a ‘Passport to Success’ skills-training programme and four, two-year diploma degrees, taught by qualified Lao instructors.
Lanith’s Chief Technical Advisor, Peter Semone said; “One of Lanith’s main challenges is to provide programmes that balance the grooming of human resources’ behaviour with providing knowledge, in order to build a tourism industry in Laos that is at the forefront of the Asian hospitality wave.”
He stressed that Lanith is following Professor Chon’s ‘Four-legged Chair Approach to Establish Quality’ - an organisational structure change that adds industry support to the traditional three legs: quality of faculty, students, and university resources.
“Lanith has already implemented the Passport to Success skills-training programme in cooperation with an enthusiastic private sector in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, Xieng Khouang, and Khammouane provinces, and is currently seeking a private sector partner to invest in constructing and operating a four-star hotel on Lanith’s Mekong Riverfront campus,” Semone said.
Professor Chon concluded by challenging Laos and Lanith to grasp its tourism moment of truth, and he outlined the industry’s needs for embracing the Asian Wave: raise service quality, create a relationship between academia and businesses, establish separate education and skills-training segments, and forge public-private partnerships.
Semone wrapped up the symposium by noting; “Laos is in the middle of the shift to the Asian Wave in hospitality, and can become a centre of excellence for creating a strong hospitality service culture…We have arrived at Laos’ tourism and hospitality moment of truth, and it is time to move ahead.”