Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Vientiane Times todayt writes about a new urban development project calles the That Luang Marsh:
Under the agreement, Wan Feng Shanghai will spend 12,000 billion kip (more than US$1.5 billion) to develop the marsh into a tourist attraction and cultural centre.So, what does attract tourists? Let"s have a look on the status quo. There are two main tourists sources, Thai and western foreigners. Thai people visit mainly waterfalls and Wat Phou, some Luang Prabang. They are looking for the nature and landscape. Western tourists are looking for the ancient Laos and culture, that's why most of them go to Luang Prabang. So, what kind of tourists can be atracted by a urban development? The article says:
The development will include open spaces, a public park, lagoon, drainage, roads, a sports centre, and trade and service centres that contain five-star hotels, shopping centres and entertainment venues.The project will also include a residential area and facilities that it is hoped will attract tourists to Laos.Will tourist come for shopping? I don't think so, since there is nothing to buy in Laos that isn't available in other countries and is cheaper there (except wine). Will tourists come for entertainment? I think Singapore, Malaysia and Hongkong are better choices, even Bangkok. There won't be a new Disneyland, instead expect a chinese park for kids, like the current waterpark. Nice for locals, but not a reason to get a plane from Bangkok or even Europe. So, I dont see any tourists coming. I see middle class Lao and expats, in particular Chinese and Korean, moving in there, as it happend in Saigons Phu My Hung area.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Yes, this title sounds harsh, but I actually heard it from a Lao friend. We ware talking about the work force problem and that it is hard to find skilled people. Yesterday I read in the Vientiane Times that mining companies are trying their best to hire local people - however, it is still a skill problem. But as you may know from my podcast episode with Titi about career development, there is also a lack of knowledge about what working in a job means at all. For example: I know a girl working in a coffee shop. She is looking for a better job, so I arranged an interview with the owner of a foreign owned restaurant. Guess who did not show up? She said she wasn't feeling well and had headaches. I had this experience many times when I try to help Lao people finding another job. Don't the need to work? Let's have a look into the Lao society. In general, it is build around the family (there is a new trend I will explain later on). Family has a very high value in the Lao (also the Asian) society. The main reason is that family is providing shelter and security. It is kind of a big holding company where some enterprises are more and some other are less successful. At the end, the money is the family's money and you help each other. Also, parents want to get their kids a better life (as in most other cultures as well), so they will pay for nearly everything to make the kids happy and successful. The latter is important as they expect the kids to generate the income in the future. So as long as some of the family make enough money, the others can be a bit more relaxed. Unfortunately this is changing dramatically. Two trends are important: single young males and females moving to the cities and young couples moving into their own house or room. The singles are basically workers and students, exploring new opportunities and experiences a new life style (there is a reason why most movies in Lao covering this topic). They actually need to work hard to survive. But they still struggle with the tradition of living laid back and taking things easy. When they fail, they fall hard. The young couples have a different approach: They are middle class people, with a family that can afford to build them a house or buy an Apartment. Without the family support they rarely can afford their life style. since they are more educated and even studied abroad, they are kind of the ones creating the future of Laos. But as long as there is a huge support from the family, there is not much of an incentive to work hard and build a career. As my friend said: "They don't suffer." For now it is nearly impossible to find senior accounting staff in Laos. Also, it is quite hard to get motivated staff in hospitality. One is a education problem, the latter a mindset. Both has to be changed, if Laos wants to keep pace with other countries. It is not about lazyness, it is a bout adapting to a modern world. And get me right: The world is changing, and the huge majority of Lao people appreciate this. They just have to figure out how to find their place in it.
Monday, December 26, 2011
Gabriel Kuperman, director of the Luang Prabang film festival, a photo by thomaswanhoff on Flickr.
Listen to him in my latest episode of the From Asia With Love podcast wanhoff.com/?p=197
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Interesting read about investments in Laos, in particular from Japan. It seems that EU and Japan are the doners, while the business goes to China and Vietnam. http://en.baomoi.com/Info/Japanese-firms-see-strong-investment-potential-in-Laos/3/215960.epi Why that? First of all I think that EU and Japanese business are not taking as much risk as VN and China: They look for return on investment rather than market share or to be the first. Also, business procedures are different: Industrialized countries are less likely to pay bribes and follow instead international business standards.
These emerging countries will need to transport their goods through Laos so they can increase trade value and economic cooperation. Laos' land-linked status can provide Japanese investors with investment opportunities in the service sector, including international freight operations.This sounds nice, but Laos is quite far away from becoming a freight-hub: No streets, and if so they are not maintained and broken in less than a year. The high-speed railway is in fact on hold, since China seems to demanding way to much (a 10km special chinese business zone along the track). Once the government can assure the assure the consistence of infrastructure, this can indeed become a great income source for Laos.
Laos also has a strong workforce as most of its population is of working age.This is when you look only at numbers. In fact, most of these workforce is unskilled, and the Japanese (and other) government trying to improve the skills. But as long as there is no major change in curriculums in public schools and in business oriented education (more practice, less textbooks), the workforce will be useless.
At present, there are 87 Japanese investment projects in Laos worth about US$540 million, with most in the areas of agriculture, hydropower and construction.Sounds nice, but actually a lot of them failed. It all comes down to two issues: Governance and Education. This has to be improved, then Laos can have a brighter future.
Monday, December 19, 2011
In case someone wants to know what transparency means:
Work is underway to develop the Nam Phou fountain square in Vientiane after local authorities gave the go ahead for a company to build a restaurant, in a bid to attract more tourists. The development project, which will change the face of one of Vientiane’s most popular spots, will see the building of a restaurant which it is hoped will bring more visitors and business to the area. In recent weeks, people passing the fountain have become concerned about the status of this public space and have become worried that they will no longer be allowed access. Their concerns arose after the construction company erected a fence around the area in order to secure the site. A senior official from the Vientiane Administration Office told Vientiane Times yesterday that public access to the area would be allowed to continue even though some parts will become part of a private business venture. People will still be able to sit in the area to enjoy the environment provided by the fountain and there will still be an open space maintaining the overall impression of a public square.Beside the fact that there isn't really a lack of restaurants in this area anyway and no tourist will come to Laos because of a new restaurant at Nam Phou: It is interesting that there was no advance notice about the project. It still has a bad taste. Oh, and maybe it is because mainly foreign restaurants are suffering - and who cares about them?
One if the MDG for Laos is "Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger". However, chances to be realized are "Unlikely", according to UNDP. French Queen Marie Antoinette was once quoted "Let them eat cake" when she learned about a shortage of bread. In Laos, I see "All you can eat" and "Mammoth burger" events coming up. For me, it is a quite cynical (as a B52 drink is). I am not complaining about (luxury) expat life in general. It is more about the message and how it may received by those how can't participate in the events. Maybe it's just my Christmas blues.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/18/us-laos-investment-idUSTRE7BH06F20111218 I disagree with this article. First of all Western countries pay a lot for health and rural development. Second, China and Vietnam just buying the country. A lot of property in Vientiane is already in VN hands. Logging takes place in the south, basically unregulated, and in the north China is building ghost towns for future gamblers. None of the Lao phone companies makes profit, and the same goes basically for most SOEs. Beer Lao might be different. The income from dams is nice, but will not be enough. Yes, there is a boom, but it will not take long then Laos is facing the same problems like Vietnam right now: Investors cash in and run away. Regional companies, especially from the neighbors, just have one advantage: They can deal better with corruption. This and the total lack of law enforcement is the reason why Western companies are careful. In Vietnam we saw that investment and return of investments isn't the same process. Just an example: I was told that in Laos local DVDs are not much copied because people are afraid to be sued. But copying foreign movies isn't a problem at all - because a foreign company has basically no tools for getting justice here. I still believe the current boom won't last long. While Vietnam can rely in a export crisis on it's large population and the domestic market, Laos doesn't have this advantage. It is depending on foreign investment, what means giving concessions and creating income based on the fees and taxes. Mining seems already to be on it's peak, logging might decrease following more protests of local farmers suffering from landslides, and most property in Vientiane is sold already. As long as there is no market supervision and regulation, a safe business environment and enforced laws, Laos is still a high risk place for business.
Monday, December 12, 2011
It is not that we don't have wine in Laos. Compared to Thailand wine is actually cheap here and we have quite a good selection so far. Thanks to the french community, wine is accepted here, thanks to winemakers around the world good wine is available here as well.
My friend Keo launched today the JOB108 magazine and website. While the magazine will be published three times a month with 4000 copies, the website of course provides jobs 24/7 for everyine interested in human resources in Laos. http://108job.la/
Friday, December 9, 2011
For all hipsters in Laos, who don't know the background of the B-52 drink. The name refers to the US B-52 Stratofortress long-range bomber. This bomber was used in the Vietnam War for the release of incendiary bombs, which likely inspired today's flaming variant of the cocktail; another hypothesis centers on B-52 combat losses ("Burns like a B-52 over Hanoi"). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B-52_(cocktail)) Yes, these bombers were also used in Laos. So please think twice before celebrating with a B-52 drink in Laos.
Monday, December 5, 2011
I just post the press release here. These guy do a pretty good job, I just hope they will get more contracts from the private sector. An American job-creating social enterprise was recognized with the eAsia Award for Best Employment Creation Initiative in Asia. The award was presented to Digital Divide Data at a ceremony in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Digital Divide Data is an innovative social enterprise that delivers high-quality content business process outsourcing services to clients globally. “Digital Divide Data has created hundreds of jobs for youth in Cambodia, Laos and Kenya,” said Michael Chertok, a co-founder and board member. “We accomplish this through a strong recruiting and training program, coupled with a business that provides content digitization services to clients, including eBook creation, newspaper and archive digitization, handwriting transcription, and survey data entry.” For the past 10 years, Digital Divide Data has used a model called “impact sourcing” to consistently grow enterprises that build skills and create jobs. eAsia is an annual international event with the objective of reinforcing technology and knowledge-centric growth and needs of Asia. The eAsia Awards have the aim of acknowledging unique and innovative initiatives in the use of Information and Communication Technology for Development. Nominations for the awards are screened by an eminent jury, which selects award recipients in each category. The Award for Best Employment Creation Initiative is in the category of Driving Economy. eAsia is sponsored Cisco Systems, GPiT, HP, Huawei, Intel, Polycom, Samsung and UNDP. Digital Divide Data (DDD) is an innovative, internationally acclaimed social enterprise. They deliver high-quality data conversion services to global clients to create jobs for talented youth in developing countries. Their clients receive competitively priced, world-class data preservation and content conversion services. This business empowers their staff with the skills and experience they need to lift themselves out of poverty.