The rapid growth in tourism is threatening the Konglor-Natane caves, one of the most remarkable natural sites in Laos. While this growth is clearly having a positive economic impact, it is of utmost importance to reconcile local development and the preservation of this jewel of biodiversity. That is the objective of the “support for the emergence and consolidation of a sustainable management model and local natural and touristic sites in Khammouane” set up by the NGO Tétraktys and supported by AFD.
Jewel of biodiversity conservation
Discovered at the turn of the 20th century, the Konglor-Natane caves, in Khammouane Province, are in an exceptional 7km-long speleological system with a principal cave, which can be visited by boat, reaching 100 meters wide and high. A navigable transport route enjoyed by inhabitants seeking to travel between the Konglor and Natane villages, over the years it has become a must-see touristic site in the valley. 25,000 tourists visited in 2015; there were just 3,000 in 2008.
Waterfalls from Hin Boun spring, Laos © Tétraktys
Support local development and preservation of the site
The first impacts of this tourism boom are now visible for villagers in the valley with the installation of sanitary infrastructure, access to drinking water and the professionalization of actors. Other visible impacts: the rise in boat traffic in the caves and the emission of greenhouse gases. These phenomena are leading to the deterioration of the area and ultimately harm sustainable development in the region. The ecotourism association of Konglor-Natane (AEKN) was thus set up in 2014 in order to establish conservation and environmental management solutions; it is the first such association in the Lao republic. It gathers the 8 tourism groupings of the site and aims to implement a plan for the conservation, development and management of the caves.
Strengthen village tourism actors
AEKN benefits from a support program set up by Tétraktys and supported by AFD, Luxemburg cooperation, the Auvergne Rhône Alpes region, the French embassy in Laos as well as the Intercommunal Water Syndicate of the Grenoble Region. The project, with a total budget of €850,000, will be implemented between July 2016 and July 2019. It aims to strengthen the capacities of local actors and put in place tools for conservation and enhancement of the area through several actions:
- the development of ecological shuttles, the first means of transport using renewal energy in Laos at a natural site,
- the sustainable management of the Konglor-Natane caves, the first tourist site to be managed autonomously by the village community,
- the introduction of tools and training (creation of ecotourism trips and enhancement of new cultural and natural sites in the Natane Valley, training of 15 Lao trainers in subterranean hiking and village actors in nature guidework),
- the access to drinking water for Natane Valley villages.
A model to follow in Southeast Asia
At the end of the program, the Ecotourism association of Konglor Natane will be autonomous in the sustainable management of the tourist caves and share its expertise with other communities in the Natane Valley where 3 new natural sites will be outfitted and managed by the communities. New ecotourism poles will have emerged with new economic activities. The landscape of the karstic massif of Khammouane will thus be able to enter a process of international classification.
This innovative project therefore aims to become a model initiative in sustainable development in Southeast Asia: integrated tourism respectful of the environment and its inhabitants which make it possible for a high value-added natural site to join a virtuous circle of economic growth.