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Vietnam travel sector urged to focus on service to attract visitors

2011-06-01 (GMT + 7)

Deputy head of the Tourism Research and Development Institute Pham Trung Luong spoke with the Dai Doan Ket (Great Unity) newspaper about plans to boost the Vietnam travel sector.

Is the tourism sector fulfilling its great potential?

Well, Vietnam has enormous tourism potential, particularly compared to other countries in the region, because of its varying climate and seasons, mountains and beaches. It has eleven world heritage sites (both tangible and intangible) – far more than countries which have a more highly developed tourism industry such as Thailand and Malaysia.

According to international estimates, the tourism sector generates about 10 per cent of all jobs globally. Vietnam has to do its utmost to ensure it does not lag behind other countries, particularly those in the Asian region.

Has the Vietnamese Government formulated plans to develop the tourism industry?

Tourism was said to be a key economic sector at the recent 11th National Party Congress. When we think about development, we should think in not just economic terms but also about job creation in support industries and services. For example, Singapore on average attracts one visitor for each of its citizens. Meanwhile, in Vietnam, which has a population of more than 80 million, we received just 5 million international visitors last year. It is clear that the country has not yet fully tapped its tourism potential.

Although Vietnam has stated that tourism is a key economic sector, it has been slow to lay down favourable development policies. For instance, if it truly is an important economic sector, then appropriate investment should be made. Investment in tourism only began in 2000 when Vietnam came up with a tourism development strategy for the first time. Investment was mainly focused on infrastructure and tourism promotion. Even so, the scale of the investment was far too small compared with development needs. It is impossible to develop tourism if tourism promotion is not given due attention.

But the tourism sector itself should exploit the country's tourism potential and invest in training and promotion. Do you not agree?

We need to understand that tourism as a product comprises two parts – hard and soft. For instance, the natural beauty of Halong Bay could be considered a hard part. However, just having a beautiful bay is not enough, good quality services must also be provided. Here I wish to emphasise the need for skilled personnel. Human failing and poor management led to recent regrettable accidents in Halong Bay. Poor management means that every man is in it for himself resulting in a makeshift approach to tourism.

Moreover, not enough attention has been paid to training tourism staff and those working in hotels and restaurants, meaning that standards are low. Tourism firms meanwhile, do not have the financial resources to invest in high-quality services.

Lots of companies of Vietnam tour have engaged in trying to undercut their competitors at the expense of quality. This could be the reason why few foreign visitors return to Vietnam. What should be done to improve the situation?

That is a fact and it must be dealt with. First, those working in the tourist industry must realise they will not last if they continue to run their businesses in this way. Second, State management needs to be strengthened. That should involve State support for tourist businesses in the low season. Good firms should be encouraged while shoddy ones should be punished.

What can Vietnam learn from other countries when it comes to tourism?

On a macro scale, countries with a successful tourism industry have invested heavily in promoting their countries attractions. They have also made people aware of the benefits of tourism, even if they are not directly engaged in the sector. For this reason, the public is keen to keep their environment clean and tidy. They are also welcoming to visitors.

What should Vietnam focus on to boost its tourism sector?

The Vietnam tourism development strategy for 2011-20 is being studied by the Prime Minister before it is approved. The strategy puts great emphasis on quality rather than quantity. In other words, how to serve one tourist well rather than 100 poorly. To achieve this goal we will have to markedly improve our management skills and services.

Last but not least, we will need to improve tourism promotion.

Source: VNS

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