In line with the government's desire to increase foreign exchange earnings, Western tourists were first permitted to enter Laos in 1988, although just 600 persons visited, well within the official limit of 1,000. The following year, 2,600 tourists visited, and in 1990, the figure increased by 130 percent, to approximately 6,000 tourists. The Ministry of Trade was assigned responsibility for the development of the tourism industry in 1989. In the following year, the government monopoly on the industry was removed, and nine private tourist agencies were authorized. As of 1992, tourism was somewhat limited to group travel. However, if an individual has a Laotian sponsor who provides individual sponsorship assurances, it is possible to receive a visa without being a member of an organized tour group.
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