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Tourism foundations in place

Released at: 08:06, 19/08/2018

Tourism foundations in place

Mr. Nguyen Van Tuan, Director General of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism

Mr. Nguyen Van Tuan, Director General of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), spoke with VET's Ngoc Lan about Vietnam's tourism sector.

by Ngoc Lan

Has Vietnam’s tourism sector been growing in 2018?

Vietnam’s tourism sector welcomed nearly 8 million international tourists in the first six months of this year, up 27.2 per cent year-on-year, and catered to nearly 43 million domestic tourists. Total revenue reached VND312 trillion ($13.4 billion), up 22.5 per cent over the same period of 2017.

The sector targets welcoming 15-17 million international tourists this year, up 25 per cent compared with 2017, and catering to 80 million domestic tourists, an increase of 9 per cent compared to 2016. Total revenue from tourism is to reach VND620 trillion ($26.68 billion), an increase of 21 per cent.

With the results posted in the first six months and the foundation built over the last few years, I believe the tourism sector can achieve or even exceed the targets set for the year.

Online travel services are becoming increasingly popular among tourists. What are your thoughts on this trend?

Online travel is an inevitable trend and continually developing. Online travel platforms from around the world and from Vietnam are popular in the country, especially in accommodation and travel, such as Airbnb, Agoda, Booking, Gotadi, Ivivu, Traveloka, Trivago, Vntrip and others.

The rapid development of online travel platforms presents many benefits but also poses problems for regulators. In terms of benefits, these platforms are likely to attract and serve more tourists by increasing the number of rooms and providing different experiences. The platforms also have more promotional opportunities due to larger numbers of products being introduced to the market. E-commerce exchanges also provide more choices to travelers, increasing competition in accommodation and services at a destination. 

A number of issues, however, such as unfair competition between homestays on online exchanges and traditional accommodation models such as hotels have not been closely managed. The issue of tax collection from homestays is also not strictly controlled. Other matters, such as service quality, security, and safety also become more pressing when new forms of services are not regulated by law.

What are some of the characteristics of foreign investment in the tourism sector at this time compared to previously?

Differences include the higher requirements in international standards for high-end segments and the coming together of famous foreign investors or brands and domestic investors. Vietnam’s tourism sector has basically gone through development in breadth, and now focuses on high-spending tourists and on beach, mountain and golf resorts as well as Meeting - Incentives - Conventions - Exhibitions (MICE).

We see leading hotel management groups in Vietnam, such as Accor with its Sofitel, Pullman, Novotel, and Mercure brands, and IHG with InterContinental, Crowne Plaza and Melia. Famous hotels are often affiliated with international brands.

With the presence of famous brands from around the world, the image and prestige of Vietnam’s tourism sector has fundamentally changed, positioning the country as a high-quality tourist destination. The sector received a range of international awards in 2017, including “The most attractive golf destination in the Asia Pacific in 2017” in the 2017 Asia Golf Awards online poll and “Emerging destination for luxury travel” from the Pacific Area Travel Writers Association.

Visa policies are considered an important factor in attracting tourists. What has VNAT proposed to the government in this regard?

Simplifying and facilitating visa procedures are the most important factors in attracting international tourists and express a country’s openness and hospitality. VNAT has recently advised the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, in coordination with the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and related ministries and sectors, to continue creating favorable conditions in visa procedures.

Proposals in recent times have been to gradually expand the list of countries subject to visa exemptions and electronic visas, extend the duration of stays for tourists with visa exemptions, remove the stipulation that foreigners with visa exemptions must remain outside of Vietnam for at least 30 days before returning, and introduce additional favorable conditions for visa issuance at border gates.

VNAT has recently organized many programs and events, such as introducing Vietnam’s tourism in South Korea and Europe. What do these aim to achieve?

This is part of promotional activities held within the framework of the National Tourism Promotion Program 2018. The goal is to maintain growth in tourist numbers, especially in target markets like South Korea and Europe.

The number of South Korean visitors increased by a record 56 per cent in 2017, to more than 2.4 million. The figure is double the 1.1 million South Koreans who visited in 2015. Maintaining growth momentum in this market plays an important role in the overall growth in international tourists in the future. The number of South Korean tourists also reached a record of over 1.7 million in the first half of this year, up 60 per cent over the same period last year.

Europe is a unique market segment with high-spending travelers who stay for long periods. European visitors to Vietnam reached nearly 1.9 million last year, an increase of 30 per cent against 2016. We recognize that the European market has significant potential. The number of visitors from the continent remains relatively low and more promotional activities are needed, with any growth contributing to the diversification of markets.

How can the goals for Vietnam’s tourism sector this year be achieved?

To achieve the goals mentioned above, the tourism sector should focus on the following tasks. First, implement solutions to maintain growth momentum, focusing on promotional activities, the development of tourism products, public-private partnerships, and the linking of branches, sectors and localities in tourism development. The second is to accelerate the implementation of Resolution No. 08-NQ/TW on tourism development, making the sector a spearhead economic sector, and bring the Law on Tourism 2017 into life.

The third is to strengthen State management of tourism, focusing on destination management, the tourism business, tourism services, tour guides, and other tourism human resources. The fourth is successfully hosting major tourism events, including the 2018 National Tourism Year - Ha Long - Quang Ninh and the ASEAN Tourism Forum 2019 (ATF), as well as conducting promotional campaigns in North America, Australia, and elsewhere.

What will be the difficulties and challenges for the tourism sector in the years to come?

It is necessary to address basic issues considered “bottlenecks” in the local tourism sector. 

Firstly, visa policies are limited compared to Vietnam’s tourism competitors. The Global Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 put Vietnam at 116th regarding visa requirements; the lowest among ASEAN countries. Indonesia ranked second, Cambodia fifth, Singapore 16th, Laos 18th, Thailand 21st, Malaysia 25th, and the Philippines 41st.

Secondly, in terms of aviation, many of Vietnam’s airports are overloaded and not fully catering to tourists, especially Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City. Only a few airlines are permitted to exploit the domestic market, so the competitive environment is limited and not helping the local tourism sector, while direct routes to international destinations are few.

Thirdly, although great efforts have been made in promotional activities, their effect has been short of expectations, due to limited resources and a lack of cohesion among overseas Vietnamese agencies, organizations and enterprises. 

Fourth, the management of destinations, the environment, food safety, and traffic safety remain inadequate. Many localities have not really addressed issues relating to their tourism environment.

Fifthly, there are weaknesses in the tourism sector, especially relating to illegal tourist businesses and illegal tourist guides, while the quantity and quality of human resources are yet to meet requirements. Services are also inconsistent with international standards and quality control is ineffective.

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