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Laos to be An Ecotourism Paradise

With the World Responsible Tourism Awards of the Best Responsible Wildlife Experiences given to Nam Nern Night Safari, Laos strengthens its status of a premier eco-tourism destination not only in Asia but around the world. The Mekong Tourism Coordination Office which represents six Mekong countries extends its warmest congratulations to Nam Nern Night Safari and to Laos.

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Laos’ efforts to protect its environment and develop a responsible tourism policy were rewarded in London during the World Travel Market with the attribution of the Best Responsible Wildlife Experiences Award to Nam Nern Night Safari in Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area. The World Responsible Tourism Award was created in 2004 by responsibletourism.com.

Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area (or NPA) is located in Northeastern Laos and is one of twenty National Protected Areas set in 1993 by the Laotian Government. With an area of 4,229 km2, it is one of the largest in Laos covering seven districts and three provinces (Houaphan, Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang provinces). The area is densely covered by primary forest and is a sanctuary for a number of endangered species including tiger, gaur, sambar deer, and white-cheeked gibbon living in the area.

Located within Nam Et-Phou Louey NPA, the Nam Nern Night Safari is run by Wildlife Conservation Society and provides a unique and highly environmental friendly experience as visitors are taken in traditional long-tail boats steered by ethnic guides.

Nature activities during the trip include bird watching, wildlife tracking at the Boung Man salt lick, nighttime wildlife spotting, medicinal plant discovery and moderate hiking. Guiding is provided by Khmu villagers of Ban Son Koua, an ethnic community living in the area Khmu. Visitors are generally taken by their hosts to a tour of their village where they will learn about living conditions in this rugged landscape but also how to cook traditional food. Visitors will also learn about tiger conservation from park staff while staying overnight at the park substation campsite.

The tour has been designed to be sure that revenues generated from tourism effectively goes to local communities and to nature protection. Every visitor must pay a fee, which is included in the total tour price, to the village development fund before entering the area.

Very unique is the fact that the amount of money received by the villages depends on the numbers of wildlife seen by the tourists, who are required to fill out a wildlife monitoring form at the end of the trip. The more animals being seen by visitors, the more financial support it will generate to local communities.

All the revenues from the tour go into a village development fund. The money is shared equally between the 14 villages that surround the Nam Nern area. The money from the village development fund is used to support small-scale village development activities chosen by each village, rather than cash payments. The amount of money in the fund can be reduced in the event that a villager breaks the laws of the national protected area. Every family from each village has agreed to this benefit-sharing system by signing a contract.

Responsible Tourism Awards were founded in 2004 by responsibletourism.com to inspire tourists and the tourism industry by the best of the best in responsible tourism -tourism that creates better places to live in and visit. 2013 sees the awards growing to be called the World Responsible Tourism Awards. The distinction looks at individuals, organizations and destinations working innovatively with local cultures, communities and biodiversity but also at their source of inspiration for others.

Rather than pick the nominees, responsibletourism.com rely on travellers and the industry to nominate those tourism ventures with exciting stories to share. This makes the Awards unique.

Judges who selected Nam Nern Night Safari gave the following reasons: “Nam Nern Night Safari has been designed to support the conservation of tigers and their prey, as well as other wildlife, by placing a monetary value on tigers and other wildlife for local people. Each reported sighting of wildlife by a tourist results in a financial reward for the villagers, and this includes people who might otherwise poach. Since 2010 there have been 370 visitors in 142 groups, and the revenues have been shared by 1000+ families in the 14 surrounding villages. The village development fund generated $2,860 this year, roughly $200 per village. It has been used by villages to improve their well-being through small projects. Although the numbers are small, the initiative has been very successful in increasing the number of wildlife sightings per boats – they have doubled. The judges felt that this approach should be replicable “.

Commenting on the Award, H.E. Professor Dr.Bosengkham Vongdara, Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism of Lao PDR highlighted that “community-based eco-tourism programmes have become Laos’ unique feature and have great potential because they give visitors the chance to get in touch with and taste nature, as well as the everyday life of local people and the customs practised by the Lao multiethnic people. Laos has been praised by tourists across the world and been awarded many honourable and impressive prizes such as the Award for the Best Responsible Wildlife Experiences”.

Says Paul Eshoo, Ecotourism Advisor, Wildlife Conservation Society: “This award is a result of the commitment and tireless work of our local staff and 14 partner communities who believe in the importance and value of wildlife.  Laos is a country with very rich biodiversity and important ecosystems that hold enormous potential for ecotourism. We hope that our model inspires other projects and areas to develop wildlife tourism in a way that provides tangible conservation results and economic benefits through direct incentives for protection.”

Says Mason Florence, Managing Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office: “We are particularly proud of this new award for Laos. It is for all of our member countries a wonderful opportunity to celebrate as it highlights over 20 years of continuous efforts by all the GMS member countries with the active support of the Asia Development Bank to encourage a truly responsible, community-based and environment friendly tourism policy in the region. The Greater Mekong Sub-region can be proud to serve now as a model for other countries or communities around the world”.

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