Vientiane (VNA) - Though Laos largely avoided any severe health impacts from COVID-19, the pandemic’s effect on its economy, especially the tourism sector, is forecast to be devastating, according to the Vientiane Times.

The newspaper on October 5 cited an Asian Development Bank (ADB) survey showing that half of surveyed enterprises temporarily closed in May and about 70 percent cut staffing, with employee numbers falling 38 percent. Meanwhile, some 78 percent of tourism enterprises in Luang Prabang, a popular UNESCO World Heritage Site, closed.

Prior to the pandemic, tourism was growing rapidly throughout the country. Foreign arrivals increased 14.4 percent last year, reaching an all-time high of 4.79 million, with international tourism receipts totaling 934 million USD.

Laos targeted 5 million foreign tourists in 2020, but the global health crisis resulted in travel restrictions and a widespread contraction, the ADB said.

International tourists to Laos primarily come from Thailand, which accounted for 45 percent of the total last year, followed by China (21.3 percent), Vietnam (19.3 percent), and the Republic of Korea (4.2 percent).

The ADB noted that as tourism is one of the main revenue earners for the country, the pandemic’s effect on the sector has had a considerable impact on its economy overall. In Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, two famous tourist destinations where tourism enterprises mostly target international and leisure tourists, the impact of COVID-19 has been much more severe.

More than 80 percent of tourism companies in these two destinations cut more than 50 percent of their staff.

The ADB conducted two surveys on tourism businesses in four of the country’s major tourism destinations. The initial survey was conducted in August 2019 on 366 enterprises and the follow-up on 327 enterprises in May this year./.