For Tourpreneurs, attracting tourists and encouraging them to spend liberally at their destination is challenging enough. However, for tourism entrepreneurs in the Southeast Asian nation of Laos, the difficulty of their jobs is often compounded by the remnants of a war that happened 40 years ago: unexploded ordnance (UXO).
In the 1960s and ’70s, the United States launched a ‘Secret War’ in Laos aimed at dismantling the supply lines used by North Vietnamese and Viet Kong forces. These supply lines, known historically as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, ignored national borders and weaved through the mountainous terrain of Laos. The bombing campaign associated with this ‘Secret War’ lasted for 9 years, and resulted in more bombs being dropped on Laos than the combined total of the bombs dropped on Japan and Germany during WWII.
While war is horrific enough, 30% of the anti-personnel ordnance, known as ‘cluster bombs’, failed to explode upon impact. This continues to be a persistent threat to the people of Laos today and results in 300 new casualties every year.¹ These shiny, tennis ball-sized bombs are difficult to see hidden in the dirt or foliage of the country’s rugged terrain. When they are discovered, these ‘bombies’ are dangerously alluring to children and adults who do not know what they are.
My wife Tricia and I visited Laos in 2012 and discovered it to be an extraordinary place with unlimited potential. In the northwestern corner of the country, around the town of Phonsavan, lies an archaeological site called ‘The Plain of Jars’. Thousands upon thousands of giant stone jars dot the landscape and are believed to be roughly 2,000 years old. This natural attraction, plus high-quality silk production, mulberry wine, Buddhist culture, wonderful people, and delicious food, makes the area around Phonsavan a natural magnet for tourism. However, until the world is made aware of the UXO challenge facing the people and Tourpreneurs of Laos and international action is taken, these innovators will continue to struggle to build their businesses amidst the constant threat of a war that ended decades ago.
For a picture-rich and more in-depth account of our experience in Laos, visit Tricia’s blog at:
¹ Statistics via COPE Laos.