Monday October 21, 2019
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Laos’ Champasak Province Refuses To Sell Their Land For SEZ

About a dozen active special and specific economic zones have been created throughout the country to attract foreign direct investment to boost development and job opportunities in rural areas since 2002 when the first SEZ was set up.

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Khone Phapheng Falls, a series of cascading waterfalls on the Mekong River in Khong district of southwestern Laos' Champasak province, is one of the sountry's most beautiful natural attractions. RFA

At least 140 families from eight villages in the Khong district of southwestern Laos’ Champasak province are refusing to sell their land or relocate to make way for a special economic zone planned for their area.

Despite this, developers have begun the hasty construction of an access road that would bring construction traffic dangerously close to some of the villages.

The first phase of the Mahanathy Siphandone special economic zone (SEZ) is expected to be built by 2021 and will cover nearly 200 hectares (494 acres) of land throughout the six villages. The project will be expanded to cover nearly 10,000 (24,710 acres) hectares of land in the province.

During the first phase of construction, 35 five-star hotels and casinos will be built at a cost of more than U.S. $9 billion.

The Laos Mahanathy Siphandone (Hong Kong) Investment Co. Ltd., also known as Laos Maha Nathi Sithandone (Hong Kong) Investment Co. Ltd., received a 99-year concession for the land on which the SEZ will sit, is providing 80 percent of the funding, while the Lao government is supplying the rest.

The company and the Lao government signed a memorandum of understanding on June 20, 2017, for the first phase of construction, according to project documents.

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“Developers want to expand to Done Khong island and Done Sadao island, but villagers didn’t agree with the plan. They want the development far away from their community, near Khone Phapheng waterfalls because they don’t want their rights violated.”

But residents of Ban Hinsiu, Ban Phon, Ban Hang Khong, Ban Don Khong, Ban Muang Sen, Ban Phon Kao, Ban Thakhob, and Ban Houakhok villages have officially refused to give up their land.

“The company wants people’s land, but people don’t want to just hand it over,” said the chief of an affected village in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service last month.

“We launched a complaint to the People’s Council insisting that we don’t want to give up our land. We’ve been living here for generations,” the chief said.

People living in the affected area say they understand what is at stake. The SEZ could be beneficial to the region and the country as a whole, providing a needed economic jumpstart.

“We are all for economic growth, but if we give up the land, we will not have place to live,” said the chief.

He explained that the authorities, after hearing their complaints, decided to give another plot of land to the company, closer to Tha Khob village, near an old golf course, but this did not solve the problem, because the company is building a 40-km (25-mile) access road to get there.

“The road is only six meters wide, but the Lao authorities say it needs to be 6.5 meters. Since construction [of the road] has already started, the company is simply filling out what would be the shoulder of the road with soil in an effort to save money,” said the chief.

A Khong district official said that villagers and developers have been unable to compromise on the scope of the project.

“Developers want to expand to Done Khong island and Done Sadao island, but villagers didn’t agree with the plan. They want the development far away from their community, near Khone Phapheng waterfalls because they don’t want their rights violated.”

The district official added that the initial plan of the development will cover 3,000 hectares of land and affect eight villages. Later the development will expand to 6,000 hectares and will affect 11 more villages.

As one of the least developed Southeast Asian nations, Laos has become a target for massive foreign investment, especially from companies in China, Thailand, and Vietnam, which receive attractive investment incentives from the Lao government.

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“We launched a complaint to the People’s Council insisting that we don’t want to give up our land. We’ve been living here for generations,” the chief said. Pixabay

About a dozen active special and specific economic zones have been created throughout the country to attract foreign direct investment to boost development and job opportunities in rural areas since 2002 when the first SEZ was set up.

Also Read: Human Rights in Cambodia Concludes on Note: Peace Without Justice is Unsustainable

The government has said that it plans to build 41 special and specific economic zones, mostly in border areas and remote parts of the country, and that the zones will create about 50,000 jobs and possibly increase local per capita incomes to as much as U.S. $2,400.

Laos’ per capita income in 2017 was U.S. $2,330, according to the World Bank. (RFA)

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Dynamics of Tourism Growth in India

Ensuring that the tourism infrastructure supply chain is seamless will require not just creating a consistent and informative process

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Tourism, Growth, India
Fundamentally, for the robust long-term growth of the tourism sector, India must ensure that it is offering an eco-system that is attractive and consistent. Pixabay

The dynamics of industrial growth in India, for all ancillary industries, makes for fascinating reading and analysis. India has embarked on a renewed push towards making the country an attractive tourist destination through a variety of measures such as the “Incredible India 2.0” campaign. Both local and international destinations have wooed domestic Indian tourists. Regardless of whether one considers inbound or outbound tourism, the tourism supply chain provides exciting opportunities for investors and provides pointers towards much-needed infrastructure developments.

At a fundamental level, as India looks to develop further this component of the economy derived from tourism, it is vital to focus on the convergence of marketing & branding (read availability of information regarding possible tourist destinations), accessibility and local infrastructure such as hotels, eateries, transportation and medical facilities. Fundamentally, for the robust long-term growth of the tourism sector, India must ensure that it is offering an eco-system that is attractive and consistent.

Ensuring that the tourism infrastructure supply chain is seamless will require not just creating a consistent and informative process that generates tourist interest, but also a back-to-front infrastructure linkage that delivers the experience. For instance, a trip to the Taj Mahal via the Delhi Airport and the expressway linking Delhi to Agra is vital to ensuring that the branding and marketing of a tourist destination deliver value.

A closer look at the example stated above throws light upon the importance of the airline connectivity, highway and airport infrastructure involved. Additionally, the availability of the local hospitality industry that caters to the spectrum of incoming tourists at the tourist destination is vital. One missing piece in the link renders all other assets relatively incapable of realising full value. On the contrary, a seamless infrastructure linkage system ensures that the various components in the supply chain can operate close to full potential to generate value.

Tourism, Growth, India
At a fundamental level, as India looks to develop further this component of the economy derived from tourism, it is vital to focus on the convergence of marketing & branding (read availability of information regarding possible tourist destinations). Pixabay

For example, exceptional air connectivity to a tourist destination and the availability of hotel infrastructure that caters to a broad spectrum of tourists is rendered relatively ineffective in generating significant tourist traffic without the last-mile road connectivity required between the airport and the final tourist destination. It is vital to underscore that the focus isn’t only on the international tourist, but on both foreign and domestic tourists.

Essentially, as the interlinkages mentioned above will improve, so will the volume of tourist traffic. The capacity for both the government and investors to further develop the cornerstone of the tourism infrastructure linkage stated above has significant multiplier effects for investment opportunities in linked sectors. The luggage industry is a classic example of a sector that will provide investment avenues as the Indian tourism industry develops further. Additionally, not only will the ancillary industries such as luggage grow, but they will also grow in terms of segmentation. With gradually rising incomes, opportunities will be created not just by aggregate market size growth but by tapping into segments such as higher-end luggage demand.

The key takeaway is that as basic tourism infrastructure will grow, linked industries such as luggage, banking and foreign exchange service providers will flourish. Opportunities through market disruptions must be viewed by investors as an avenue to get into growth segments that benefit from tourism growth in India. The opportunity to acquire a foreign exchange business from a larger business group or to get a foothold within the luggage industry must be viewed as an opportunity to tap into the tourism potential.

Indian tourism opportunities must be viewed through a wider lens of tourism that not only caters to traditional hospitality but also builds on the niche opportunities available. Medical tourism is an area that has seen significant growth in the past years and with the infrastructure ecosystem providing support will grow further.

Also Read- Vietnam and Australia to Start Collaborating on Science Initiatives

However, segments such as the meetings (both national and international), incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) and wedding destination need more significant focus in India. Infrastructure creation that will allow India to gain a foothold in the MICE tourism space gradually is vital. Not only will there be direct earnings, but existing hospitality assets will be able to ramp up their returns on the back of adequate MICE infrastructure.

The tourism industry going further offers significant opportunities to India to generate jobs, more GDP and investment opportunities. Further building on the available opportunities through a well-planned and holistic approach is urgently required. (IANS)