16 Jun 2012
Vietnam, which many still associate with its war with the US in the 20th century, is currently booming as a tourism destination in the Far East with promising
The Chinese are coming in their hundreds of thousands. The South Koreans and Japanese are coming too along with Americans, Europeans and other
They come to enjoy the Tet spring festival, which is the traditional New Year, and to play golf, or relax on beaches that are cheaper than other Asian destinations.
Nearly six million tourists visited Vietnam last year; 3.5 million of them visited Ho Chi Minh City, which is considered the vibrant economic city of the country. These numbers “to us are not really so ideal, and we try to make them better,” said Ong Ngugen Thanh Rum, director of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Culture, Sport and Tourism.
Approximately 80 per cent of tourists arrive by air, and 60 per cent come back for a second visit, the official said through a translator during a meeting with a group of foreign journalists arriving on the first nonstop daily flight by Emirates airline on June 4.
The move by Emirates, which became the first Arab airline to conduct daily flights, coincides with plans by other airlines to launch routes to the country, expected to be among the fastest growing markets in a few years.
Other airlines planning to launch Vietnam flights in the next 18 months include Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways, Air Hong Kong, Jeju Air of South Korea, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Air China, Silk Air of Singapore, Finnair of Finland, America’s United Airlines and Japan’s All Nippon Airways.
Already, Qatar Airways has flights to Vietnam, but they go via Bangkok. Turkish Airlines has direct flights to Vietnam.
According to the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam (CAAV), the country is expected to receive around 36 million passengers a year by 2015, and between 52 million and 59 million by 2019.
Tourism boosted the national economy by $6 billion (Dh22 billion) last year, almost half of the revenues were generated by tourists in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam is “trying to develop tourism in all aspects, but focuses mainly on the tradition of the festival and culturally related activities,” said Rum.
Cultural similarities between Vietnam and its neighbours as well as geography are believed to be among the main reasons why the top three countries in terms of tourists are Asian: China, Korea and Japan respectively.
The three countries come within the “traditional” tourism market for Vietnam. Other countries include Singapore and the United States. Vietnam is eyeing other markets, including the United Arab Emirates and India, as “potential markets”.
Promoting the image
Apart from launching its own promotional campaigns, Vietnam is also part of an Asian campaign called “Four countries, One destination”. The promotion includes Cambodia,
Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. Also, “we send performers and artists to traditional and potential markets to promote the image of Vietnam,” said Rum.
The country is focusing on many types of tourism, including history, family activities, health care, shopping and ecotourism in rural areas, where visitors could spend time with Vietnamese families away from the noise of the city. And different tourists express different preferences.
“It is lovely, it is quiet and not many people [are here],” Lucie Wenz, a banker from Germany, told Gulf News of her three-day visit to a southern resort. She had already spent a month visiting various cities in Vietnam.
Lucie has visited almost all the Far Eastern countries, she added. And one corporate director from Singapore, who declined to be named, said he likes to spend two days with his daughter in a resort because “we don’t have beaches [in Singapore]. We had beaches 40 years earlier, but not anymore,” he added in reference to the rapid modernisation of Singapore, one of the most prominent financial cities in the world.
Some Vietnamese resorts, officials and tourists agree, are still underdeveloped, unlike some resorts in Indonesia and Malaysia.
However, many foreigners working in Vietnam head to the “very popular in weekends” resorts, the Singaporean executive said.
Many Koreans and Japanese are working in Vietnam, and they constitute the biggest investors in manufacturing, Asian businessmen have said. The big tourist groups come from Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.
The Singaporean executive noted that many Japanese tourists come to enjoy golf on the several “good golf courses” built around Ho Chi Minh City. Relatively cheaper prices in
Vietnam are another attractive factor for foreigners and local tourists as well.
“The prices here are reasonable,” said a couple of Vietnamese-Americans who travelled from the city to spend more relaxing time with their two daughters and sister-in-law
with her son from Ho Chi Minh City.
Asked whether Vietnam is looking for a certain model to copy, Rum explained that his country tried to look at as many models as possible, “but choosing a specific model for us is impossible, because there is a difference in economic conditions… Each country has different strengths and weaknesses.”
“So we try to learn from the models in neighbouring countries, but not to follow any specific one,” he said. But at the same time, Vietnamese tourism officials acknowledge
that their country still lacks the full infrastructure needed to meet the increasing demand in tourism, but are hoping to bridge the gap.
“We still lack the [sufficient] number of high class hotels,” said Rum. Official Vietnamese figures show that in Vietnam there are 30 hotels ranked five star; 65 four star and 135 three star. There are also many hotels with one and two stars. Overall, there are 300,000 hotel rooms.
“We try to build more hotels and restaurants, but to receive more tourists of other countries, I think we still have a lot of room for improvement, especially [more] hotels,” he added.