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Tour operators see modest gains, hope for early word on visa waivers

2010-03-09 (GMT + 7)

Though there have been more inbound tourists to Vietnam than in the first months of 2009, the market has not fully recovered from the financial crisis.  Costs are rising sharply, but travel firms are striving to keep their tour prices stable in order to attract foreign customers, reports Saigon Tiep Thi.  They are modestly optimistic that 2010 will turn out to be a year of renewed growth.

Number of tourists increasing in moderation
Though the number of foreign visitors to Vietnam in February was up 30 percent from February 2009, that’s only a relative improvement, stresses Cao Quoc Chung, a senior executive of Vidotour.  The number is only impressive in comparison with the numbers counted during the depths of the recession (from October 2008 to June 2009.
Hoang Nhan Chinh, Director of the Hanoi branch of TNT-JTB, a firm specialized in bringing Japanese tourists to Vietnam, said that his numbers are only insignificantly up from a year ago.
The Inbound Director of Fiditour, Tran The Dung, expects only modest gains until the global economy has fully recovered.  Dung said that except in Vietnam’s immediate neighborhood (China, Southeast Asia), most tourism markets are still in decline.
Chung of Vidotour said that the number of visitors from France remains particularly low.  It’s hard to predict what the Japanese will do; they tend to travel by following the crowd, and it’s not clear whether Vietnam is trendy in Tokyo this year or not.   Arrivals and bookings from the UK, Germany, Australia, the US and South Korea are looking very positive.  Sources at Saigontourist and Youth Travel confirm Chung’s view that in general, things are looking up.

Travel firms try to hold down tour fees
Costs are going up: from March 1, 2010, tour operators will be paying more for electricity, water and airfare, hotel room rates and service fees, but all travel firms are maintaining the same tour fees.  In fact, they quoted these fees three or six months ago, and it is clearly impossible to raise the price.
Tran Van Long, Director of Viet Travel and Media Company, calculates that the overall increase in transport costs, hotel room rates and locally procured services will be 10-15 percent from March 1.
Dung said that it’s unthinkable renegotiate fees with foreign partners, especially when they have already sold tours to clients. The only solution for travel firms is to dicker with domestic partners or accept a lower profit.
However, Chinh at TNT-JTB said that he may have to raise the tour fee if he cannot find other solutions, because lowering the quality of his tours is not an acceptable outcome.

The Government’s support? Not really helpful
The Vietnam National Tourism Administration (VNAT) has announced a programme to promote discounts on tourist purchases of goods here.  However, travel firms say they do not put high hopes on the programme.
Cao Quoc Chung said that East European tourists don’t come to Vietnam to buy consumer goods, but only souvenirs. Dung related that HCM City once sponsored a similar sales promotion programme, but only TVs, refregirators, consumer goods were offered, which were what interested foreign tourists .
Travel firms are impatiently expecting news of a visa waiver for tourists that’s rumored to go into effect in August or September.  That, they agree, would be really very good news. However, as there has been no announcement, travel firms still cannot inform their foreign partners. Travel firms are also afraid that any  visa fee reduction (e.g., $25 less) will not be useful either, because tours will have already been sold, or not.


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