A Bangladeshi’s unorthodox business destination: Laos

Stories of Bangladeshis traversing the world in search of employment or business are common. From South Korea to Abu Dhabi, from Europe to Australia, there shall be Bangladeshis creating a livelihood to be found. But in landlocked Laos, a communist nation of just 6.8 million people where subsistence farming accounts for half of the gross domestic product (GDP) and 80 percent of national employment, business opportunities are less obvious. Vientiane, the subdued Laotian capital is a small city of leafy streets, French colonial buildings and Buddhist temples. Located on the Mekong riverbank adjacent to northeast Thailand, the city is charming but it is hardly an international business hub. Yet, for a small number of intrepid Bangladeshis, the city has become a second home.

In 1990, Laos first opened up to tourism, with barely 80,000 visitors to the country that year. But its laidback culture and mountain landscapes have proved popular and by 2010, visitor numbers had reached nearly two million a year.

In Vientiane, this new industry has prompted the opening of numerous guesthouses, cafes and restaurants; among them is the Dhaka Hotel and Restaurant, the brainchild of Majharul Hoque, an entrepreneur from southern Bangladesh district of Bagerhat. “I first came to Vientiane over a decade ago,” says Hoque. “I’d spent time in Bangkok, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan because I was looking for a place that would be good for doing business.” It was then, in 2005, that a friend posted with the UNDP in Vientiane invited Hoque to visit.

“I saw that the Bangladeshi community was small here,” he recalls. “It was actually larger then because a few hundred garment workers used to be attached to a Korean company.”

During his visit, Hoque became acquainted with the Tamil owner of Nazim Restaurant, one of perhaps three Indian restaurants in Vientiane. A few Bengalis worked there too, and it was the restaurant’s owner-manager who encouraged Hoque to stay, helping him to find his feet in the country.

“Laos has advantages,” says Hoque. “To start a business in Thailand requires significant capital, while in Singapore, costs are huge. Malaysia offers good profits but doing business in Laos is easier, and profit margins are good here too.”

In Laos, Hoque believed he could make a start with modest capital, which suited his circumstances.

With his father in Bagerhat having been a shrimp and paddy trader, and an older brother running a pharmacy, Hoque’s family was supportive of his business dream. “Go ahead and try,” they told him. “See if you can make a good life there.”

Yet, despite his family’s blessing and help from his Tamil friend, there were challenges.

Source: Chinapost