Vietnam ‘forgets’ American tourists
While tourism companies see the US as having potential, the number of American visitors to Vietnam, not to mention Vietnamese Americans, is still low.
Duong Xuan Hoi, Deputy Head of the Travel Department of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), said that the number of American visitors to Vietnam has increased, but most of these are Vietnamese American. Vietravel, a major local travel firm, said it receives just 100-200 American tourists a year.
Another top travel firm, the Saigon Tourism Corporation (Saigontourist) has a higher number, with around 2,000 of its 52,000 foreign visitors last year, but this figure is still just 3.8% of total.
Saigontourist attracts more American visitors compared to other firms thanks to its high-quality tourism product called Premium Travel for high-income earners. Up to 70% of American visitors booked by Saigontourist use five-star standard services. High-income earners now account for a large part of American visitors to Vietnam.
Mr Hoi, also Chairman of a project to develop tourism in the Mekong Delta, said that US tourists especially favour the south, where the life and landscape still keeps its nature.
Why American visitors don’t know much about Vietnam
According to statistics of international tourism organizations, over 50mil American people travel abroad each year.
Vietnam is considered one of the top ten destinations of interest for American travellers.
American travellers don’t know much about Vietnam as a destination where they can spend their holidays with their family or friends.
Vo Anh Tai, Director of the Saigontourist Tourism Service Company, said that it is because the advertising of Vietnamese images in the US is modest and many Americans are still concerned over the history between the nations.
Mr Hoi shared this viewpoint, saying that Vietnam’s recent tourism promotion programmes didn’t focus on the US market, but instead looked to Japan, Europe or the Republic of Korea.
“Tourism advertising and promotion need a strategy, but we don’t have a strategy for the US market, and tourism companies can’t do it themselves. If they do, the effect is negative,” said Tran Van Cuong, a lecturer of a tourism school.
According to Mr Cuong, the US is a potential market but is difficult to access.
“It is also difficult for Vietnamese travel firms to obtain visas to the US to survey the market so it is often beyond Vietnamese companies’ ability to promote their business in the US,” he added.
American travellers are considered to be pragmatic and clear in choosing the places they visit and the things they do there. As a result, tourism promotion in this market is difficult for both Vietnamese travel firms and tourism sector.
Joe Mannix, Director of United Airlines, said that US travel firms consider Vietnam as a new market, with many destinations that international visitors want to discover.
Nevertheless, Mr Mannix said that Vietnam needs to improve advertising and marketing its images abroad and improve infrastructure. “It is good that Vietnam has paid more attention to those tasks and I believe that Vietnam will become a big rival in the world tourism industry,” he said.
Though it is difficult to get access this market, Vietnamese travel companies still eye it in their own way.
According to Nguyen Quoc Ky, Director of Vietravel, international investors, including Americans, are now interested in Vietnam as a potential investment destination. “At first we will pay more attention to this group of visitors. We will combine with American travel firms to bring them into Vietnam to survey the Vietnamese investment environment and business opportunities,” Mr Ky said. He also said that Vietravel will send a representative to the US to bring American visitors to Vietnam in the near future.
Meanwhile, Saigontourist aims at high-class American travellers. It has joined forces with a US partner to bring US tourists to Vietnam by cruise ships. The first trip will be conducted at the year’s end.
Tourism officials also begin to pay more attention to the market. In mid-March 2006, a group of officials and enterprises from Ho Chi Minh City paid a visit to the US and Canada to promote trade, investment and tourism.
Le Nhut Tan, Deputy Director of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Tourism, revealed that through the trip, Ho Chi Minh City’s enterprises have opened initial access to this market. However, there are many jobs to do and one of the measures to attract more American visitors is having more flights from Vietnam to America, and vice versa.
Under a project to develop tourism in the Mekong Delta, which is supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), American visitors are also a focal point, according to Mr Hoi.
According to experts, political events are opportunities to advertise Vietnam’s tourism potentials, for example the visit of former President Bill Clinton to Vietnam in late 2001. The visit of President George W. Bush to Vietnam this year’s end is expected to be another chance.