17:27 (GMT +7) - Wednesday 13/11/2019

Vietnam Today

Tourism at the fingertips

Released at: 13:50, 01/06/2019

Tourism at the fingertips

Photo: Viet Tuan

Efforts are in place and ongoing to adopt digital technologies and turn Vietnam into a regional travel destination based on smart tourism development.

by Hong Nhung & Nghi Do

A plan setting a target of $45 billion in tourism revenue by 2025 and exports through tourism reaching $27 billion was recently approved by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and aims to restructure Vietnam’s tourism industry and turn it into a spearhead economic sector. The tourism sector will be revamped and imbued with the Vietnamese cultural identity so that the country acquires a world-acclaimed tourism brand. Smart tourism will be broadly applied, while the sector’s competitiveness will receive a boost.

Smart travel destination

Representatives from ministries, tourism analysts, and international investors have encouraged the implementation of the latest technology to develop the country’s tourism industry, in particular focusing on sustainable tourism and loosening visa regulations as well as branding and online marketing. Industry 4.0, with its advances in information technology (IT), has driven traditional tourism to transform into “smart tourism”.

Applying technology in tourism enables travelers to book flights, hotels, and tickets to tourist attractions, while they can also search for places to enjoy local food without having to rely on travel agencies. Hanoi launched a new Hop on - Hop off Tour program last year, with buses featuring free wi-fi and a five-language automated tour guide system making 13 stops and passing more than 20 famous attractions.

Ho Chi Minh City is also tapping into its tourism potential with the support of digital technology, launching a project last year to develop into a smart city during the 2017-2020 period as part of its vision to 2025. The project’s four targets include the maintenance of a sustainable economic growth rate, efficient urban management, improvements to living and working conditions, and enhancements in the management of people and organizations.

Twelve other tourist destinations, including Sapa, Ninh Binh, Phu Quoc, and Vung Tau, are also deploying smart travel applications to help tourists quickly find ATMs, gas stations, and healthcare and other services.

According to Ms. Nguyen Thi Anh Hoa, Deputy Director of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Tourism, 2018 represented the initial stage of the city’s smart tourism development. The tourism sector has therefore continued to apply technology in working with travel companies and managing popular destinations, in order to cater to new trends among domestic and foreign travelers.

In talking about the necessity of technology in tourism promotion, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Pham Dai Duong said the country’s tourism industry has substantial potential to develop but enterprises need to make appropriate changes to utilize the advantages on offer in order to survive. Those refusing to evolve and stay abreast of new trends will be forced to close their doors eventually.

While a technology foundation is indeed being developed, its application is only available at attractions in Vietnam’s major cities, according to global market researcher Mordor Intelligence. Tourism in mountainous and remote areas is still a fledgling concept, and the investment required to develop smart applications can be huge, putting it out of reach for many small tourism companies.

Vietnam, meanwhile, must undertake a robust accounting of obstacles and opportunities in order to promote cloud computing adoption and the government has a crucial role to play in this. One of the most common trends seen in the travel industry is the use of flexible, reliable, and scalable support for a company’s online presence. In this regard, cloud computing is considered significant and facilitates mobility. For instance, the Travel Port Mobile Agent application allows travel agents to access their reservations, change bookings, and issue tickets from anywhere on the planet. This could prove revolutionary for the industry as a whole.

“Smart” Experiences

The development of IT and the widespread use of smartphones have already changed Vietnam’s tourism industry, with many companies using big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve their products and services. According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), smart tourism is an inevitable trend and 70 per cent of tour operators in the country have developed their online business. Leading tourism operators are promoting the application of modern technology in their business activities, such as Vietravel, Saigontourist, the Thien Minh Group, Hanoitourist, and Benthanhtourist.

The number of tourists using new technology is heading ever upwards and more and more rely on technology during their holiday. Many foreign tourists to Vietnam use smart devices to book taxis, hotels and other services, and use online travel agencies (OTAs) and other applications when planning their trip. Young Vietnamese tourists are also catching up the latest trends. Many Vietnamese, especially those from 20-30 years of age, use social media and web communities as their main source of travel information, according to Mr. Kengo Kurokawa, Founder and Director of Asia Plus Inc., a Japanese market researcher in Ho Chi Minh City. “Although travel agencies are the largest source of travel information, online is becoming more common, especially among those who travel frequently,” he said.

A report from the Vietnam E-Commerce Association (Vecom) shows that over 60 per cent of domestic tourists book hotels and tours online, while 75 per cent of international tourists do likewise. Its figures reveal that tourists increasingly use the internet, smart utilities, and smart devices to find travel information, learn about destinations, compare and select travel services, purchase holidays, and make online payments. They are becoming “smart travelers” and an important element of smart travel, according to Dr. Le Quang Dang from the VNAT’s Institute for Tourism Development Research (ITDR).

Many Vietnamese travel agencies are trying to develop smart applications to improve their management systems, from marketing and sales to customer care, according to Mordor Intelligence. Mr. Tran Xuan Hung, Chairman of the Board at the Viking Travel Company, told VET that social networks such as Facebook and Instagram are a focus in introducing travel information, rather than posting on its website. All information and comments on these networks are monitored by its Indonesia-based team, as Indonesia is the major market of the company and holds the most potential, contributing 70 per cent to total annual revenue at the moment. “We believe this marketing strategy will be effective as tourists become better-connected,” he said.

Saigontourist, meanwhile, has seen the proportion of packages booked online increase from 10 per cent to 30 per cent over the last three years. More than two-thirds of its marketing activities are in digital marketing, which is able to more accurately measure efficiency. “Technology has indeed changed the face of tourism marketing,” said a representative from Saigontourist.

Demonstrating success

Many tourism companies are greatly interested in using the internet for advertising and other activities, but IT application remains poor and new technology hasn’t been fully exploited to improve competitiveness, attract customers, and upgrade management and administration, according to Dr. Dang from ITDR.

Mr. Ralf Matthaes, Managing Director of Infocus Mekong Research Vietnam, said that the major drawback to developing the smart side of the sector is less about technology and more about attitude. Vietnam is still known as a “one-time” destination, unlike Thailand, where tourists tend to return on a regular basis. This is largely fueled by the tourism industry’s short sightedness in terms of cashing in today as opposed to developing long-term relationships with customers. “Over time, this will change, but attitudes and behavior need to change to ensure tourists do not feel they have been shorted or taken advantage of,” he said. “As a whole, Vietnamese have embraced technology quickly and are very well versed in it, so for local operators this will not really be a challenge.”

Mr. Kurokawa said it is very difficult to find online users without being at the top of lists of online booking sites. Consumers have come to be wary of activities such as online ads, and rely more on real voices in reviews. “So, providing good services and increasing the number of good reviews is the best marketing strategy,” he suggested.

One of the most intriguing aspects of smart tourism is the role played by the government in its promotion. The government needs to collaborate with tourism operators to identify “hot spots” and even potentially offer some form of incentives to encourage tourism to turn smart and fast, Mr. Matthaes said. As for trademarks, it will be critical to secure tourists’ feedback to identify and capture their attitudes to develop a tourism-centric communications platform to drive Vietnam forward as a major tourism destination in Asia.

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