Community-based Ecotourism Project

Lao P.D.R. currently develops many interesting alternatives to mainstream tourism. One of these is community-based ecotourism in National Protected Areas. This aims to show foreign visitors the magnificent heritage of Laos, without affecting the people’s life and their environment.

The local people receive full participation in the development process and create new sources of income. This way the wonderful but poor people of rural Laos will have a decent future. Furthermore, nature can be protected and tourists experience a memorable time in Laos.

You are welcome to visit our Protected Areas, but are asked to understand and cooperate with the local people. This way, you can help preserving their culture and nature!

Project Aims

Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area aims to develop tourism as a basis for nature conservation and environmental education. The main goals of this project are:

- To conserve the nature reserve, its diverse ecosystem and its wildlife supported by sustainable tourism;
- To reduce the exploitation of natural resources by educating the local people and
  creating alternative income opportunities;
- To raise funds for infrastructure, park management, maintenance and improvement
  of park facilities;
- To create general public awareness on the importance and benefits of National
  Protected Areas;
- To provide environmental education and create awareness building for tourists and
  the Lao youth;
- To create new tourist destinations close to Vientiane.

Achievements so far

Some activities that have been achieved so far are:

- The improvement of infrastructure;
- Capacity building and training for the Phou Khao Khouay staff, guides and local
- Planning and implementation of consumer-oriented activities that coincide with the
  goals and ideals of nature conservation in Phou Khao Khouay. Amongst these
  activities are trekking, hiking, wildlife watching (elephants),
  camping and on-site environmental training.

- In 2005, the project has been handed over completely to the respective communities involved and is now managed since nearly four years (June 2009) by the villagers of Ban Na and Ban Hatkhai themselves.

Project partners

The National Tourism Administration of Lao P.D.R. (LNTA) has been responsible for the implementation of the Phou Khao Khouay ecotourism project. It worked in close cooperation with the Management of Phou Khao Khouay National Park and the Department of Forestry, which is in charge of the National Protected Areas and their wildlife.

Sponsors of the project have been the German Development Service (DED) in Vientiane, the Embassy of Germany in Vientiane, the Embassy of Switzerland in Bangkok and the Canada Fund in Vientiane/Bangkok. DED was supporting the implementation of this project with the placement of an advisor to the LNTA.

The villagers now manage their project entirely on their own. LNTA and the park administration give further advice and technical support when needed. The private sector has found the sites and programs offered being attractive and is using the services of Ban Na and Ban Hatkhai. These companies bring in their expertise and sales & marketing infrastucture.

This definitely helps the villages to keep going on and even expand their business without sacrificing the goals of the project. Private tour companies cooperating with the villages have pledged to adhere to and honor the principles set during the project development phase, which are villager participation to the benefit of the community and environment protection.

Where your money goes

Your visit to Ban Na or Ban Hatkhai contributes to the development of these villages and the creation of new jobs. The money you spend while booking your trip will foremost benefit the local people as well as nature conservation in the park - regardless you go on your own or book a package with a private tour operator, for example in Vientiane.

Part of your money goes to the ‘revolving fund’. This is a micro-finance scheme, in which the money gained from tourism goes into a so-called ‘village account’. Villagers can use this account, following strict rules, to borrow money. They use this money to improve their farm or house, to buy seeds or to pay hospital bills or finance the school of their kids. The money, of course, has to be paid back in due time and with some interest.

An elected village committee supervises the funding system. Lending of money is only allowed after discussing the application in a public meeting. This transparency contributes to minimizing fraud and corruption. Under normal circumstances, the village account itself will never shrink. It will permanently grow with money gained from visiting tourists. The money is just revolving into the system!

Furthermore, the money you spend on a trekking permit (which allows you to enter the reserve) contributes to the conservation of the park. Therefore, you money is well spent: you are participating in the development of rural communities and conservation of Laos’ natural heritage!

And – of course – the guides have to be given their dues. We require that always two guides are hired, simply due to security reasons. Four eyes and ears see and hear more than just two in an environment that is home to elephants and other creatures. And who otherwise can call for help in case of an accident deep in the forest?

Where are the proceeds of the elephant tower going?

The Elephant Observation Tower at Ban Na is a costly affair. Visitors spending a night on the tower and using its facilities have to pay into the “Elephant Conservation and Research Fund”. This money is used

(1) For the maintenance and improvement of the building and its surroundings. Please keep in mind that elephants are strong and playful animals. Only a solid and well maintained structure can guarantee the safety of tourists.

(2) Not only Ban Na is affected by the elephants, but also a string of eight more villages in its neighbourhood. The tower, which is paid for by public money, stands on the village land of Ban Na, but it is not fair to leave the other villages, suffering from attacks by the same elephants, out of account. Jealousy and frustration could arise, maybe with unwanted consequences.

Now we are able to help these villages, either to give some support if damages are grave or such attacks even claim lives of livestock or humans, or to hire neighbouring villagers as guides or as monitors to inform us about the whereabouts and movements of the elephants and other valuable observation. This in turn would be of interest for the visitors and may provide preliminary data, which could be used for future research programs.

(3) The management of the tower needs a reliable person who is willing to spend considerable time and is committed to keep things effectively going. We found a villager in Ban Na, Mr. Bounthanom, who is just doing that. In order to reward him for his dedication, he is now receiving a small monthly ‘salary’. The fund also allows us to shoulder other administrative costs incl. some advertisement or the participation in important events like the Ecotourism Forum.

Though Ban Na is collecting the money, the fund itself is managed by an elected committee comprising seven villagers representing each village affected by elephant raids plus one delegate each from the district and the park authority. Strict rules have been set up for the proper use of the money entrusted to them. The committee convenes three times a year or whenever it has to approve of financial requests for help e.g. from people who suffered damages of crops etc.

Thank you very much for your – as we believe, meaningful - contribution to the people and the environment, and for your understanding!