Namxan Tours is an in-country Laos tour operator specializing in bespoke tailor-made and small group tours. We visit the classic Laos sites as well as exploring many less-frequented off-the-beaten-track destinations and in particular we are promoting the seldom visited central region. As a result we feel we have an obligation to do so in a way that avoids the potential negative impacts that tourism can bring, whilst ensuring a harmonious experience for all parties involved, and especially safeguarding long-term sustainable benefits for local communities.
We are fully committed to ensuring that it is the local communities that benefit from us in a positive and sustainable way whilst minimizing our impact on the environment as much as possible. As a Laos national operator all profits stay within the country, and we encourage our clients to book directly through us to continue this trend. All our staff throughout the whole organization, from the office, to the guides and drivers, are Laos nationals with just one exception who works on an advisory basis.
Prior to the start of a tour our clients are advised on the cultural aspects of the country so that we are always considerate towards local way-of-life and local customs. We cover everything from dress codes and ways of eating to appropriate conduct in temples and village visits. Our guides have been trained further by us to focus on these cultural differences that foreigners perhaps would not understand the first time they visit Laos. For example is very important not to touch a child’s head - as can be the tendency in other cultures, in villages with Animist belief. We also encourage our clients to learn at least some basic phrases which are much appreciated by local people and help to enhance our client’s experience.
For everyone’s mutual benefit we use, and encourage our clients to use, locally owned restaurants and hotels to ensure that everyone experiences a true and unique Laos experience as well as maintaining our policy of keeping all profits in the country and supporting local communities. Most of our package tours are based on a maximum of 10 persons per tour which significantly minimizes our impact, especially on the more remote and rural areas that we visit. With these small groups we are able to use minivans and local tuk tuks - as opposed to large coaches, to keep our carbon footprint as low as possible and of course minimize damage to roads and tracks. Our general impact on local way-of-life when visiting remote villages is also greatly reduced with a small group. It also means our policy of using locally run hotels and guesthouses as opposed to the big “chain” hotels is easy to maintain. We are proud to say that we are keeping to this policy as the business expands - in direct comparison with some of the big international foreign owned operators who sometimes come to Laos with “small” groups as big as 20 and coach tours with 50+ clients and all the potential problems that can bring.
We take great care in attention to detail all the way down through the whole organization to the ground with our clients. From minimizing the use of paper in the office, to actively helping and encouraging our clients to reduce their impact by simple but crucial methods such as reducing and recycling waste as much as possible. Our tour packages include drinking water, which is provided using large containers to refill clients own water bottles, to reduce the use of plastic bottles. We take great care to remove all our waste from remote areas, much of which can be donated to a village to be recycled. Also, shopping at local markets and encouraging interaction between our clients and local people as much as possible we feel is beneficial to everyone.
Almost all our tours are based on a breakfast only basis, we encourage our clients to explore and experience different foods and restaurants by themselves, and we feel that this not only enhances our client’s experience, but also means that wealth is spread to more than just one restaurant at a particular destination. For us in particular, promoting the central region which currently receives mainly independent travelers, we also avoid the significant impact of imposing a group on areas not used to them. Where possible, free time is built into our itineraries at certain destinations, not only to give clients more flexibility to explore by themselves but to also minimise our impact on tourist sites, especially in remote areas.
There are many charitable enterprises and NGO’s in Laos that are doing good work which we to support as much as possible, sometimes it is as easy as taking clients to one of the best restaurants in the capital city of Vientiane called “Makphet” – part of the “Friends” non-profit organization which takes homeless children from the streets and then houses, educates, and provides training to eventually find them jobs in the hospitality industry. We also use “Big Brother Mouse” which we encourage our clients to visit. This fantastic charity produces and distributes educational books for the children of remote rural villages and we are actively involved with the distribution process through our village visits. We feel that for willing clients, visiting these places also provide an educational aspect that only adds to the whole unforgettable Laos experience - we often find that clients contribute towards these organizations even after returning home.
We also support COPE www.copelaos.org and UXO Laos www.uxolaos.org two hugely important organisations who are trying to deal with the ongoing after effects of the Secret War here in Laos. Time permitting we often include a visit to COPE in our standard half-day Vientiane sightseeing tour, and we visit the UXO Laos office in Phonsavanh as standard as part of our itinerary there. Clients learn about the huge ongoing problem regarding unexploded ordinance and also have the further opportunity to see the mine clearance teams at work, many voluntary donations are subsequently received by UXO Laos which significantly benefits an organisation with a very small annual budget.
It is our policy that we always contribute something to everywhere we visit, especially the sometimes culturally sensitive issue of visiting small villages, which forms an integral part of many of our tours. Our groups are briefed fully on any specific cultural issues and are encouraged to split up and not impose as a group. All donations are given either to the local teacher or the village chief - certainly NOT directly to children as this practice only encourages begging, with significant negative impacts on local way of life, and also future visiting tourists. We firmly discourage the distribution of sweets for children as clients will certainly not be around for future subsequent dental care. We also ensure that we try to bring what is needed most by liaising with the local people. Some villages have enough pens and books but need some new footballs for the children, or need some help or materials to repair the local hospital or temple etc. As a Tour Operator promoting the relatively unexplored central region, we also feel we have extra responsibility to keep our impact as small as possible whilst doing what we can to ensure tourism benefits the people that need it most.
At Namxan Tours we like to go further, we are especially proud to be directly involved with the promotion and organizing of Laos as a destination for English language teachers to travel here and undertake some voluntary teaching work, thereby providing young Laos people a rare opportunity to develop their English skills. A chronic shortage of good English teachers in the country, especially in remote areas is one of the reasons that only a tiny fraction of young people have the opportunity of a good education and subsequent job. In conjunction with organisations such as TEFL (www.tefl.co.uk) we work to encourage more qualified English language Teachers to come to Laos on their travels and participate in a genuinely rewarding and beneficial experience for all. In particular we support an English school in Phonsavanh where we also take our clients to participate in an English class as part of our itinerary, providing the students a rare opportunity to meet and practice their English with foreigners, a truly rewarding experience for everyone.
We are very pleased to report that with our and many others help, a boys football team from this school is traveling to Sweden to play in an international football tournament in July 2010. This is the first time the boys have ever left the province, let alone the country and continent. It is sure to be an amazing experience for them and everyone involved. For more information please, cick here
As we expand and require more full-time guides our plan is to sponsor students from the English class in Phonsavanh through his/her national guide training and then employ them on completion of training, making a real difference to the extremely slim employment prospects of the many students in the province. It also means we can further train them specifically for our tours to ensure the correct balance between our clients wants and needs and the cultural sensitivities of traveling through Laos - our aim is for a harmonious experience for all everyone.
For all of our walking and trekking activities in the National Protected Areas of Laos we use the provincial tourism departments. All the activities are community based and have been developed in co-operation with local stakeholders with help from foreign NGO’s such as SNV, ensuring that the proceeds go back into the local communities and not to tour operators. All guides are employed from local ethnic communities and we stay at home-stays and at specially constructed Eco-lodges in remote villages ensuring that our wealth is spread to the communities that need it most. In fact, the whole development of these activities has been to protect and sustain the local environment, and the local guides have been specifically trained in this manner. For more information about these sustainable tourism initiatives please go to: www.ecotourismlaos.com, www.luangnamtha-tourism.org, www.savannakhet-trekking.com and www.snvworld.org
Namxan Tours are serious about Responsible Tourism; it is a fundamental obligation that forms the basis for our whole mission throughout our operations in Laos. We believe that most of what we do in the above statement should be standard practice for all tour operators in Laos. Not only does this help to ensure long-term benefits for the local communities, but actually significantly enhances the truly magical experience of visiting Laos for our clients.