Wealthy Vietnamese turn their backs on 'boring' Tet for overseas travel

By Ngan Anh   February 9, 2018 | 02:00 am PT
Wealthy Vietnamese turn their backs on 'boring' Tet for overseas travel
A Vietnamese tourist in China. Photo by VnExpress
Droves of families are escaping the usual rigmarole for a more exotic Lunar New Year.

Nguyen Thu Huong won’t be making the traditional pilgrimage back to Ha Tinh Province to celebrate the upcoming Tet with her husband’s family this year. Instead, they are going to Singapore to enjoy shopping and sightseeing.

Traveling overseas allows her family to bypass the crowds, clogged roads and boredom that can mark Tet in Vietnam. Huong, her husband and their small son have also visited Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong in previous years.

“I don’t want a boring Tet, staying at home in Hanoi or going to Ha Tinh. Tet celebrations are always the same old thing - eating, drinking and watching TV galas - every year,” said Huong, 30, who works for the State Bank of Vietnam. “Traveling overseas is interesting, and it doesn't cost much more than visiting tourist spots in this country.”

Huong is just one of many Vietnamese people who have decided to go abroad this Tet holiday, which starts on February 15.

Many travel agents said they have received 20-30 percent more bookings for overseas travel than last year.

Vietravel has received an estimated 19,000 bookings for outbound tours this Tet, while Lu Hanh Viet and Hanoi Red Tour have forecast 10,000 and 3,000 customers respectively. Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan are proving to be the most popular destinations.

Rising overseas travel is a result of smooth economic development and an expanding middle class, said Nguyen Cong Hoan, vice general director of Hanoi Redtour. “A more affluent younger generation now wants to see the world. They are willing to spend more money on experiencing new destinations.”

Vietnam’s middle class population is believed to be the fastest growing in Southeast Asia. The so-called "middle and affluent class" earning $714 a month or more in Vietnam will double to 33 million people, about a third of the population, between 2014 and 2020, Nikkei Asian Review reported, citing Boston Consulting Group.

Meanwhile, market research firm Nielsen has estimated that the number of middle class Vietnamese will reach 44 million by 2020 and 95 million by 2030.

According to Mastercard, Vietnam has the second fastest growing outbound market in the Asia Pacific region, after Myanmar, with projected annual growth of 9.5 percent between 2016 and 2021.

Eric Schneider, senior vice president, Asia Pacific, Mastercard Advisors, said the burgeoning middle class is driving the growth of outbound travel in Asia Pacific, including Vietnam, along with other trends such as the emergence of the Asian millennial traveler and on the other end of the spectrum the senior traveler, as well as new technology and infrastructure developments. Asia Pacific travelers will continue to fuel global tourism growth in years to come, providing vast opportunities for businesses to benefit through the development of products and solutions that seek to improve their overall travel experiences.

Mastercard forecast that some 7.5 million Vietnamese travelers will venture outside the country in 2021, increasing from only 4.8 million in 2016.

Changing Tet

The essence of Tet, Vietnam’s biggest holiday, is morphing as rising incomes and an expanding network of international flights prompt more people to travel abroad.

“For us, Tet is mainly a vacation period,” said a Hanoian named Tran Bao Ngoc, who is planning to visit South Korea for the festival, leaving her parents at home.

“I don’t think my absence will kill their mood,” she said, adding that she planned to spend up to VND60 million ($2,642) on her vacation. “For me, it's not a small sum, but I think a one-week vacation is rare, so it's worth spending the money.”

Traditionally, Vietnamese people return home during Tet for a family gathering before New Year's Eve, followed by days of visiting relatives. However, the observance of this custom is becoming less strict. “We're not that close to our relatives anymore, so there's no need,” Ngoc said.

On a lighter note, going on vacation during Tet is a way for many young Vietnamese women to avoid distant relatives’ prying questions like: “When are you getting married?” or “When are you planning on having a baby?”

For many married women, it is also a way of escaping the stress that comes with the exhausting chores of preparing traditional food for the ancestral rites.

Tran Thu Ha, 35, from Hanoi, said she got an earful from her mother-in-law when she and her husband traveled to Japan during Tet some years ago. “She gave me a long lecture about why we should show up for the ancestral rites at my husband’s house. But other relatives also started dropping out in the following years, and she loosened up.”

This Tet, Ha will be going to Australia with her husband and some friends. “My husband said it's a New Year gift for me,” she said.

For many affluent travelers such as Ha, foreign travel during Tet has become its own tradition. “Ten years ago, 1,000km to domestic destinations like Da Nang was considered far away,” she said. “Now, our radius of travel is more than 3,000km, and the new destinations are overseas.”

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