Australian Embassy
Lao People's Democratic Republic
Km 4, Thadeua Road, Watnak (P.O. Box 292)

ASEAN Women’s Private Sector Forum (Tourism)

ASEAN Women’s Private Sector Forum (Tourism)
13-15 June 2016, Vientiane, Lao PDR

Opening remarks by John Williams, Australian Ambassador to the Lao PDR

H.E. Mr Savankhone Razmountry, Vice Minister for Information, Culture and Tourism of the Lao PDR, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am absolutely delighted to welcome you all this morning to what, I believe, is quite a unique event on the ASEAN calendar, but one that we hope captures, and aims to progress, several of the major priorities the Lao Government has selected as chair of ASEAN in 2016 – women’s empowerment, tourism and SME development.

They are issues too which are at the heart of Australia’s global aid program, which aims to engage closely and creatively with the private sector, in recognition of the central role of business in driving growth and socio-economic development. 

Promoting women’s leadership, women’s economic empowerment, and ending violence and discrimination against women are also front-line priorities for Australian aid – because we know societies where women have equal opportunity to prosper, and to lead, will develop more quickly and more equitably.

Here in Laos, Australia has been working to promote financial sector implementation of the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles – or the WEPs, as they’re often called – guiding principles for supporting women to succeed in business.

So far, 11 Lao bank CEOs have signed the WEPs, joining more than 1200 other business leaders. 

If you are interested in how to apply the UN Principles to your own organisations, I understand there is some information on the WEPs in your conference papers.

For Australia, ASEAN’s first dialogue partner, it is a privilege to be able to bring together here in Vientiane over 100 women leaders of tourism-related businesses from across South-East Asia. 

Business leaders who will continue to help change the face of tourism in this region, as the sector grows in significance for each of the 10 ASEANs, and as barriers within the region are progressively brought down in the years ahead, as governments work with business to give life to the aspiration of a genuine ASEAN Economic Community.

The Australian Embassy has coordinated closely with the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism to develop this initiative, to ensure its focus is aligned with Laos’ aspirations as ASEAN chair this year.  I thank the Vice Minister, and his tourism department staff, for their support and collaboration over many months.

But this is not a forum about government, although we hope it will generate a number of ideas of value for governments. 

It is very much an event that has been developed by business, for business.  For each of you.  A chance to rub shoulders and swap business cards and ideas, learn from each others’ experiences, perhaps even explore opportunities, with your peers across ASEAN.

It’s also about sharing knowledge. We are delighted to have brought to Vientiane a number of experts from the region and beyond, to stimulate ideas on vital issues for business like marketing, access to finance, and human resource development.

And this Forum, in keeping with Laos’s priorities as ASEAN chair, has also been designed as a platform for women leaders in tourism to come together to think creatively about policy options that will help expand your businesses - and the region’s great potential as a tourist destination.

On issues like the infrastructure required to improve economic opportunities.  And about how we can open up new tourism routes across borders.

About the specific barriers women tourism entrepreneurs face across ASEAN in growing their businesses. 

And about how each of you can contribute to a sustainable tourism sector that safeguards attractions and local cultures, but is also able to take advantage of growth opportunities.

Vice Minister Savankhone and his colleagues will, from the 21st to the 25th of June, be hosting the 2016 ASEAN Eco-Tourism Forum in Pakse, in the beautiful province of Champassack, in southern Laos.

This event will bring together government and business leaders from across ASEAN to discuss regional priorities, and explore linkages across borders.

It will also provide an opportunity to present the outcomes of this women’s private sector forum to a wider audience.

I am very much looking forward to hearing the outcomes of these discussions over the next few days.

I invite you all to actively engage on the issues, network among your peers from around the region, share your experiences and knowledge.  And above all, to enjoy your time at this event, and in this wonderful city, which in my view remains something of a hidden secret in regional tourism.

As someone who has spent most of my working life in South-East Asia, and had the opportunity to travel to every country in ASEAN, I have to say it is the rich tapestry of people across South-East Asia – as much as the weather, food, stunning natural beauty and historical sites – that makes this region such an exceptional travel experience.

Vice Minister, it’s hard to find a more friendly and welcoming people anywhere than here in the Lao PDR – a fact which above all makes me so buoyant about the long-term tourist potential of this country.

Thank you again to each of you for travelling to Vientiane for this event, and in advance for your quality contributions over the next few days.

Thanks to Vice Minister Savankhone for joining me to officially open the event, and for his ongoing support and that of his department.

And to the Australian Chamber of Commerce here in the Lao PDR for all their exceptional work in putting together an event of this caliber.

Thank you, and please enjoy the next few days.