"The number of tourists travel to Vietnam shows a consecutive increase with an average of 10.1 per cent a year for international tourists, and 4.8 per cent for domestic tourists," said Professor Pham Trung Luong, deputy director of Institute for Tourism Development Research.
The forum discussed tourism investment opportunities and investment in ASEAN-member countries
Last year, international tourists to Vietnam decreased by 10 per cent year-on-year due to the economic crisis. However, the number of domestic tourists increased from 20 million of 2008 to 25 million.
The development of tourism had contributed positively to socio-economic development, Luong said.
Earnings from tourism increased from VND20.5 trillion (US$1.1 billion) in 2001 to VND70 trillion ($3.6 billion) in 2009, with an annual growth rate of 16.6 per cent.
According to the General Statistics Office, foreign currency earnings from tourism reached $4.02 billion in 2008, making tourism the fifth highest field in foreign currency earnings (following exports of crude oil, garments, shoes and aquatic products).
Tourism created 450,000 direct jobs and 1 million indirect jobs by 2009, contributing to poverty alleviation.
The development of tourism has played a part in the growth of other sectors, including airlines, construction and handicraft villages.
Total investment capital from the national budget in tourism was VND3.516 trillion ($1.8 billion) in the 2001-07 period. This was focused on provinces with national tourist areas, Luong said.
In addition, enterprises have invested an average of VND800 billion ($48 million) yearly into resorts and hotels.
Vietnam has seen success in attracting foreign investment, especially FDI, based on the advantages of political and socio-economic stability and brisk and steady economic growth. Also, the country is a transport hub for Southeast Asia, and has membership in the World Trade Organisation, Asia-Pacific Economic Community (APEC), ASEAN and Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).
In 2008, Vietnam's FDI capital flow increased to $64 billion, three times higher than the 2007 investment pledge.
Vietnam travel was ranked fourth in sectors that attract FDI investment, Luong said.
Foreign investment in Vietnam travel began in 1988 with a $7.765 million project, he added.
There were 431 FDI projects totalling $18 billion in the period of 1988-2008.
These projects were in the fields of resorts and hotel construction, golf, entertainment, transportation, travel and tourism services.
The explosion of foreign investment into Vietnam travel can be seen clearly during the period of 2002-08, with 307 projects and total registered capital of $15.454 billion.
According to statistics, most of the FDI projects were resorts and hotels in all seven central coastal provinces and southern islands of the country.
"This trend is likely to continue," Luong said.
FDI projects in Vietnam travel all produced the desired effect, he added.
Annual turnover from FDI companies were around $800 million. Of the number, $100 million contributed to the national budget.
FDI companies also created 40,000 direct jobs and tens of thousands of indirect jobs.
Nguyen The Hung, acting director of the Southern Investment Promotion Centre under the Ministry of Planning and Investment, said the country should continue to review investment and business laws and policies to ease cumbersome procedures and attract more investors.
It should also maximise all resource mobilisation for infrastructure development, give priority to the water supply and drainage areas and to environmental protection.
Other areas that need more attention include roads, railways, bridges, power production, solar power, wind power and the information technology industry.
The country should create policies on promotion and FDI attraction, and set up investment promotion representatives in key markets abroad, Hung said.
In general, in order to foster the ASEAN Tourism Investment Environment, ASEAN needs to internalise economic returns through tourism cluster growth, according to Professor Dr Wong Kong Yew, director and tourism economist of Malaysian Tourism Research Institute for Policy Studies.
"In the medium term to long term, this strategy encourages physical infrastructure development and promotes connectivity of resources," he added.
Creating a business-friendly tourism investment environment would also increase growth.
Focusing on increasing opportunities to develop human capital would help develop the manpower to support that growth, he said.
He proposed the creation of the ASEAN Tourism Investment Fund and suggested that the Government encourage the participation of commercial banks and financial institutions in providing loans for tourism projects.
Last year, there were 65 million international tourists travelling to ASEAN countries, 1 per cent higher than the previous year, and 59.7 per cent higher than in 2000, in spite of the global economic crisis.