Will Swiftonomics ever come to Vietnam?

March 5, 2024 | 03:29 pm PT
Vo Nhat Vinh Researcher
Last Friday, Tuan finished his work early and rushed to Tan Son Nhat Airport to catch a flight from HCMC to Singapore.

The next day, my friend was going to the National Stadium of Singapore to attend the first concert night of Taylor Swift in this island nation.

Tuan spent a considerable amount of money just for the ticket, not to mention the travel and accommodation costs in Singapore.

He said that such expenses were still cheap compared to going to other countries that need a visa for entry. Moreover, Singapore is Taylor Swift's exclusive destination in the region, so Southeast Asian fans must travel to this nation if they want to enjoy the concert.

This seemingly simple cultural event has caused deep controversy and even impacted the governments of the Philippines or Thailand.

Vietnamese people are spending money in neighboring countries for cultural activities. So, does a "cultural industry" exist in Vietnam?

Last summer, the U.S. Federal Reserve published a study showing that Taylor Swift's two concert nights contributed $140 million to the GDP of Colorado thanks to audience spending.

The figure was so impressive that the agency recognized this phenomenon as an economic theory-Swiftonomics. Her fame and performances are like a magnet, attracting people to local venues en-masse.

People not only arrive at the venue right before the show, but also several days in advance to ensure there are no travel disruptions. Consequently, spending related to accommodation, dining and other services also increased.

Singapore was quick to recognize this and took it to another level: eliminating the competition. The country "sponsored" Taylor Swift with millions of U.S. dollars in exchange for the monopoly over her shows in Southeast Asia. Singapore's tourism industry welcomed over 13 million visitors with revenues reaching more than $15 billion in 2023.

With Swiftonomics, over 300,000 tickets were sold out, mainly by people from neighboring countries, and hotel room rates and flight prices increased by 30%, bringing about $500 million to Singapore's tourism industry, according to Time magazine. Therefore, the "sponsorship" money was seen as a worthwhile investment.

Even though it "lost" the exclusivity deal with Taylor Swift, Thailand is also a major name in Southeast Asia with spectacular cultural events. According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the value of concerts in Thailand was around $150 million in 2023, and is expected to increase by 10-15% this year.

In Vietnam last year, Hanoi hosted two concert nights of the South Korean band Blackpink with about 70,000 attendees (including 3,000 international guests), brought VND630 billion in revenue to the city, according to the municipal Department of Tourism.

However, Blackpink had performed in Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta before coming to Hanoi. In these Southeast Asian destinations, the group attracted more audiences and generated higher revenues. In other words, revenue from consumers' spending coming from events like these in Vietnam is still very modest.

In the 1990s, when world-famous singers like Bryan Adams, Lobo, Sting, or the band Boney M came to Vietnam to perform, many people said HCMC or Hanoi would become a center for international-scale cultural entertainment activities.

As the 21st century arrives, many luxury resorts and entertainment complexes sprang up in the country, and large events began to be organized with the participation of world-famous singers. At that time, people started talking about a tourism industry that goes in tandem with cultural events.

However, 30 years have passed, and Vietnam is still waiting for that much-coveted prize, specifically the earnings that the tourism industry can make from cultural events. We still have no clearly defined centers for international-scale cultural entertainment activities.

Even the most notable events are still just sporadic phenomena, and afterwards, everything returns to as before. The tourism industry still operates in its old ways, with no breakthrough in sight.

After the failure in securing a deal with Taylor Swift, Thailand immediately rounded up global A-list artists to begin working on major deals.

Thailand not only organize spectacular performances with famous international artists, but also makes tourists well aware that Thai performances are also meticulously organized with all kinds of scales. That's how international visitors will be attracted to Thailand. A cultural weekend with a short trip to see Blackpink, and making use of the occasion to enjoy the local culture? Who wouldn't go?

Vietnam's cultural industry cannot just rely on the venues, but also must depend on activities related to local culture, which requires coordination of many different sectors.

Before hoping for a cultural industry in Vietnam, perhaps the immediate task is to learn from our neighbors on how they make money from such linked activities.

*Vo Nhat Vinh is an R&D expert based in France.

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