Vu The Binh, Director of the Travel Department under VNAT, confesses that cooperation between Vietnam’s travel sector, including individual firms, and foreign airlines remains anemic.
Preparing for the workshop, VNAT sent letters to all air carriers represented in Vietnam, inviting them to attend the workshop. However, according to Binh, only a few showed up.
Binh wonders that “perhaps they do not need Vietnamese passengers?” However, he admits, of Vietnam’s 800 registered travel agencies, only a few big firms are capable of cooperating with foreign airlines to create products.
Deputy Director of the Civil Aviation Administration (CAAV) Lai Xuan Thanh agrees. Vietnam’s travel sector is still not very good at marketing, he thinks. Moreover, there still are relatively few Vietnamese passengers flying on foreign airlines.
“Most foreign airlines still consider Vietnam to be an additional destination, to be reached via a change of planes at a regional hub,” Thanh added. “Few fly here directly.”
Thanh cited the example of a Turkish airline that asked for the permission to fly to Vietnam on April 21, but its flight landed in Bangkok first.
According to VNAT, from 2004-2009, there were 22.5 million international arrivals. Seventy-one percent of the passengers, or 16 million, were foreigners.
Vietnam Airlines, the national flag air carrier, holds a 40 percent market share, while the other 60 percent is divided among 44 foreign carriers.
Currently, besides three operational domestic airlines, 44 foreign air carriers, representing 20 countries, Hong Kong and Taiwan, serve Vietnam from 34 foreign locations. In 2002, only 18 foreign airlines served Vietnam, from 12 foreign locations.
Airlines and Vietnam travel firms ought to work together, but how?
Cooperation between travel firms and air carriers has gotten better recently, especially since the ‘Impressive Vietnam’ tourism promotion campaign was launched in 2009.
However, Binh points out, many problems still exist. When airlines announce airfare reductions, that doesn’t mean that all travel firms – small agents especially -- can purchase cheap air tickets. Some of them can buy cheap tickets, but they must accept strict conditions on seat booking, number of passengers and when they can issue tickets.
Nor is Vietnam Airlines beyond fault. Binh relates that though the national flag carrier advertised a 50 percent reduction in airfare for state officials going abroad to promote tourism, when he got to the airport one time, he found that his ticket cost had only been reduced by thirty dollars.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong, Deputy Director of VNAT’s Marketing Department, admits that a lot of VNAT activities could not be done or were done with low efficiency. Besides, the difference in administrative procedures between VNAT, a state agency, and Vietnam Airlines, an enterprise, has led to a lot of troubles in paying costs of attending trade fairs.