We are thrilled to introduce you to Ms. Soulinnara Ratanavong, a Lao native who currently works as a teacher as the Lao Institute of Tourism and Hospitality (LANITH) in Vientiane. She’s also representing Laos as a board member of the Asian Ecotourism Network (AEN), and we had a chance to talk more with Soulinnara about tourism in SE Asia, leadership and her favorite places to visit in Laos.
Firstly, congratulations on receiving the PATA Face of the Future 2014 award! How does it feel to be recognized by such a world-renowned organization like PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association)?
It was very exciting and I’m very proud indeed to be recognized by such a big and well-known organization.
How did you hear about the AEN and when did you first become involved in it?
I knew about AEN because Mr. Masaru Takayama introduced me to it when we met in APECO 2014 (Asia Pacific Ecotourism Conference) in Sabah, Malaysia. He also invited LANITH to join as board member, so LANITH assigned me as a representative of LANITH to AEN. That was when I became involved in it.
Why is the AEN important to you?
AEN is a platform that brings all leaders and experts together to discuss, share and work together to promote Ecotourism and practice all over the region.
By joining AEN, it’s a great opportunity for LANITH to have access to the pool of great information, ideas and support that could be transferred to our students who are the next generation in this sector.
What does ‘ecotourism’ mean to you?
“Ecotourism” in my point of view is any act that one does that affects environment, community, culture and people as little as possible.Leaving the lightest footprint behind wherever one goes.
What are some examples of successful sustainable tourism initiatives in Laos?
Every activity operating in Laos now is a good initiative, but if you ask which one I’m impressed the most, I would say Nam Nern Night Safari and Nam Ha National Protected Area.
Where are your most favorite places in Laos to visit?
In term of scenery I would say Xieng Kuang. I’ve been there only once but it was impressive.
In term of life style and city itself I would say Tha Khek, it’s a small city, nothing spectacular but that’s the best part about it.
You’ve traveled abroad and studied hospitality and tourism at an international university, and returned to Laos to apply your knowledge in such a positive way. What advice would you give to the youth in Laos who share your passion to work in sustainable tourism but don’t know how to begin?
Start with yourselves. Start with little thing that have a good impact. Opportunity is out there, go and grab it.
Who or what inspires you to be a leader in sustainable tourism?
“A leader in sustainable tourism” is too ambitious for me. I’m a beginner who got a great opportunity to be surrounded by leaders in this sector who have done so many great things.
All of AEN board members are my role models. In the future, I do hope I could make positive impact on Ecotourism like they do.
Thanks, Soulinnara, for taking the time to speak with us. You are an inspiration for the youth in Laos, and we can’t wait to see what you accomplish next!