Tourists are giving Vietnam more praises, but not very eager to come back

January 3, 2024 | 04:30 pm PT
To Thuc Researcher
Throughout our years of living abroad, anytime a foreign friend asks about traveling to Vietnam, I and my wife always try our best to give detailed advice.

After our friends came back from the Vietnamese trip, I always followed up to learn about their perspective on my home country. Through the years, I have noticed that the feedback has gradually improved, much less negative than online reviews I usually see in travel forums. This is evidenced by the enthusiasm that my friends had retelling their travel experiences.

If a decade ago, my foreign friends only praised the beautiful scenery, now, there have been more positive comments about the hospitality. For example, a couple I knew had recently traveled across Vietnam in three weeks, crossing 12 cities and spending VND300 million (US$12,400), not including unexpected expenses and tips, on a trip tailored to their needs.

The husband was most impressed by the careful and thorough hospitality of Vietnamese workers. Hotel staff were attentive and cheerful in helping tourists, carrying luggage and treating tourists with the utmost respect. While waiting for the hotel check-ins, the hotel displayed a digital sign with the couple's name, saying welcome.

The husband was also very impressed with the low visibility of homeless people and beggars on the street, which is said to be a "miracle" considering the number of homeless people in larger and more affluent cities like Sydney or New York.

While traffic was rather chaotic, the husband admitted, the taxi drivers always took the couples where they needed, when they needed, and always with a cheerful attitude. Even though some drivers only have limited English proficiency, they always attempted to make enjoyable conversations with the tourists. In the couple's eyes, Vietnam is a cheerful, hospitable country that is constantly trying to improve.

The wife, meanwhile, was very impressed with the Vietnamese cuisine. While my friends used to praise the affordability of food in Vietnam, now, more and more, they praise the quality of the food. In Hoi An, the wife demanded the husband to take her back to a banh mi stall three times a day, and she still regretted not having the chance to try all the stall had to offer. The wife was less enthusiastic about Hue, saying that the city’s nostalgia was not her vibe, but was very impressed with the imperial cuisine. In her eyes, Vietnam is a foodie heaven, with a street food soul that Vietnamese restaurants abroad have failed to deliver.

The couple already started making plans for their next Vietnam trip. Despite being generally excited with places like Sa Pa, Ha Long, Da Lat, Can Tho, the couple said that they are the "discovery" type of locations, and only need to visit once. The wife wished to return to Hanoi and Hoi An for their exquisite local cuisines, while the husband preferred Da Nang and HCMC for their friendliness and hospitality. I believe that they would soon come back.

The experience of the couple can provide some perspective for Vietnamese tourism. First, the industry in Vietnam is constantly improving, and the world has acknowledged our efforts. Keep improving and keep experimenting for the better. The strong positive feedback would soon translate to repeated visits, revenue and profit improvement. Vietnam is rapidly closing its gap with the world’s tourism industry.

Second, while "discovery" tourism can be very attractive to first time tourists, Vietnam should also attempt to build a tourism system where tourists would wish to return. Vietnamese tourism should build a unique identity, personalizing and tailoring experiences so that foreign tourists could find no similar experiences elsewhere globally. Cuisine and food tourism is a strong example of this direction. Customers are willing to pay big bucks for a worthy experience, and if they feel satisfied, they would further introduce to their friends and families.

Third, Vietnamese tourism workers need to quickly improve their language skills to approach and serve customers better. The tourists would feel more comfortable and well-treated if they can communicate with the tourist workers serving them. There would be unavoidable issues in every industry, but with sufficient language skills, workers could also be receptive of the customers' feedback, provide suitable explanations, avoid significant backlashes, and ensure an overall satisfaction of the customers.

Nowadays, I believe that there are less and less hospitality workers intentionally attempt to "rob" their customers, with most issues being more likely the result of miscommunication. With improved language skills, we may one day mitigate this risk.

In my opinion, honesty, enthusiasm, and receptiveness is the strongest bet for Vietnamese tourism industry to conquer the world.

*To Thuc is a lecturer at James Cook University in Australia.

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