Provincial authorities have revoked licences previously issued for several tourism projects in Laos’ Champasak province so that the land can be used to create the Maha Nathi Sithandone special economic zone.

Champasak provincial governor Bounthong Divixay recently issued a decision revoking the project licence that was granted in 2011 to a businesswoman to build facilities at the Khonphapheng and Somphamith waterfalls.

A licence that was granted for the development of 51ha surrounding Khonphapheng waterfall – the largest waterfall in Southeast Asia – was also revoked.

The governor’s decision also revoked an agreement issued in 2012 that authorised a business group to create tourism parks near the two waterfalls and cancelled an agreement granted in the same year that allowed the group to collect entrance fees at Khonphapheng waterfall.

The annulment of the province-licensed projects was done to make way for the development of a government-licensed project, provincial Administration Office head Boualy Phetsongkham told Vientiane Times on Friday.

“The former investors have done nothing wrong. The licences have been cancelled so that a project authorised by the government can go ahead,” he said.

Authorities in charge have held talks with the local investors who said they agreed to comply with government policy, said provincial Planning and Investment Department director Souksavanh Vilayvong.

The state authorities will compensate the investors for the loss of service facilities and buildings they had constructed, including restaurants, in keeping with the relevant government policy.

Officials said the sites of the projects in question overlapped the planned special economic zone, so it was necessary to cancel the licences to make way for construction of the zone.

In 2018, the Lao government, Laos Maha Nathi Sithandone (Hong Kong) Investment Co Ltd and LTV Road and Bridge Construction Sole Co Ltd. signed an agreement to develop the Maha Nathi Sithandone Special Economic Zone on an area of 9,846ha on islands in Khong district.

Under the plan, the zone will be divided into four main parts – electronic parts production and information technology, agricultural product processing, handicrafts, and other industrial activities.

It was reported previously that $9 billion would be invested in the project, with development to take place in six phases from 2018 to 2050.

The zone will promote cross-border trade and contain duty-free shops, shopping centres, a night market, transport services, hospitality and tourism facilities, finance and banking facilities, financial institutions and insurance, educational institutions, health services, entertainment and recreation parks, and promote organic agriculture and fishery.

Once these facilities are in place, it is estimated that the development will attract about 1.3 million tourists and generate $205 million per year by 2025, with 10 million tourists generating revenue of more than $2.4 billion per year anticipated by 2050.

It is expected that commercial activities will generate about $107 million in customs duty towards state revenue each year, and will create 100,000 jobs for local people.