Fear of Covid-19 outbreak causes cuts in car rentals

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Many businesses engaged in tourism and related services in Laos are feeling the heat following the outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19). 

The outbreak has caused the cancellation of hotel reservations, restaurants are running losses, and car rental services are losing potential clientele.

Car rental bookings have declined significantly as clients cancel their trips to Laos and neighbouring countries.

R W Car Rental & Cleaning Service Company Limited, a Vientiane-based car rental agency, is virtually out of business with many customers cancelling their bookings since the outbreak of Covid-19 was first reported in December.

The company’s manager, Mr Sengmany Luang-aphay, told Vientiane Times on Tuesday that their parking lot was full of vans and cars because their business had been hit along with many others around the world.

“It is having a significant and direct impact on the car rental business because this kind of service is heavily reliant on clients’ bookings. When they cancel their bookings, it means our business suffers,” he said.

He explained that many companies provide similar services and are also in dire straits as the number of clients is significantly dropping. He called this a crisis in the tourism sector.

“In the first two or three months of last year all our vehicles were booked but this year we have been hit badly,” he said.

The company not only provides car rental for travel within Laos but also for trips in the neighbouring countries of Thailand, China, Vietnam and Cambodia. 

Meanwhile, the Phouphieng Bolaven Travel Company Limited, a two-decade old travel agent based in Champassak province, is facing a similar predicament and has seen a significant drop in customers from Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

“Many customers have cancelled bus tickets to Vietnam following the outbreak of the virus. Today a 45-seater bus from the Laos-Cambodia border had only 10 passengers. I have never seen this situation before,” Ms Waen told Vientiane Times.

Many tourism hotspots in Laos are also suffering from plummeting visitor numbers.

In addition, the government has cancelled several important national events to prevent the possible spread of the virus.

Several flights to various destinations have been temporarily suspended or cancelled.

Although there are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Laos, festivals and other events have been cancelled or postponed as a precautionary measure.

One of the postponed events is the National Games in Xieng Khuang province which had been scheduled for March 22 to April 1.

Authorities in Xieng Khuang predict that the cancellation of hotel and guesthouse bookings and empty seats at restaurants will result in considerable economic losses.

Xieng Khuang has at least 100 guesthouses and hotels which can accommodate 3,000 people a night, a representative of the province’s hotel association said, but it appears many of these will now go unused.