(The panda is tiny in this snap. So I’ve put video of a cub at the end, as compensation!)
There’s a bonanza to be made from first-time tourists - especially here in Asia.
For example, IATA has pointed out that China will overtake the USA in the next couple of decades to become the world’s biggest aviation market. There will be 1.5 billion passengers here, every year, by 2036. Indian flyers will treble in number too. Already, 35% of all flyers these days are carried by Asian airlines.
It can be a touchy subject : this story about Thailand’s biggest airports is blocked from viewing inside the country!
Thailand’s keen to double tourist numbers yet again - wanting nearly 70 million annual visitors in the next ten years.
But I’ve written before how at the grassroots, residents in the tourist destinations can feel short-changed.
They see holidaymakers rumbling through their villages in vast coaches, not stopping to eat, or buy souvenirs. Friends in Myanmar last month complained of the same thing. They feel like they’re just getting a trickle from the torrent of tourist dollars pouring in.
Interestingly, one of the blockages in the pipeline might be cultural…
At a meeting in Vientiane, Laos, the other day we heard how the World Bank is keen on promoting Homestay accommodation for tourists. The Bank funds the development of this form of holiday residence.
Homestay is an enhanced form of Bed & Breakfast, you probably know, and some of them can be rather grand. There might be a swimming pool. The food might be restaurant class. It’s generally cheaper than a hotel. And you get to know the family which owns and runs the place. We enjoy homestays very much.
Many are not keen on intruding on another family’s territory. Local chums admit they are reluctant to invite folks home, but love entertaining in cafes and restaurants. Eating out is the norm; there’s no shortage of hospitality. It’s just that home is for the family alone.
And many Asians feel that their big trip abroad should be in something that looks like a hotel - otherwise : what are they paying for, for goodness sake?
It was interesting listening to the NGO representatives wrestling with this one. They were working on a presentation of ideas to boost tourist numbers in Laos. Competition from its neighbours is fierce and growing. Laos has higher import costs, as a landlocked nation. And it’s been sluggish in promoting tourism systemically.
There’s still plenty to see in Laos and a lot of it is unspoiled, too - it’s a fairly basic country. But there seems to have been no idea as to how to replace the numbers of hedonists who used to flock here.
Or how to make sure the millions of dollars that holidaymakers could bring into the country, gets spread around to the ordinary families who deserve to benefit. There needs to be a plan. And one which understands the cultural complications regionally - rather than following a well-meant pattern, set down in Washington DC.
Here’s that video of a panda cub that I promised you.
It’s as close as you can get to a panda, these days, without being a zookeeper.
Enjoy too, the zookeeper yelling at people to “hurry up and move along!”