Places - December 30, 2019 | 04:51 am PT

2019 a year of new highs for Vietnam tourism    

Vietnam’s tourism industry received a slew of prestigious awards and set new records in 2019.

Foreign tourist numbers a record high

Foreign tourists on Bui Vien pedestrian street, one of Saigon's most popular hangouts. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran. 

The number of foreign tourists reached an all-time high of 18 million in 2019, up 16.2 percent year-on-year. 14.3 million or 79 percent of the total were Asian visitors, up 19 percent.

China remained the largest source of tourists, accounting for 5.8 million (32 percent), followed by South Korea (4.3 million or 24 percent), Japan (952,000), and Taiwan (926,000).

The growth has been credited to the government’s visa waivers for nationals of potentially large tourism markets, the launch of a slew of new direct flights and increased nighttime activities like shopping and amusement.

World’s leading heritage destination 

Hue's Complex of Monuments, a UNESCO heritage site. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh. 

Vietnam surpassed competitors like Brazil, China, Egypt, and Greece to be named the world’s leading heritage destination for the first time at the World Travel Awards (WTA) in Oman in November.

The recognition vindicates the country's efforts to preserve its cultural heritage, the WTA stated.

The country is home to eight world heritage sites recognized by UNESCO: the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, My Son Sanctuary, Hoi An ancient town, the Complex of Hue Monuments, Ha Long Bay, Trang An Landscape Complex, Thang Long Imperial Citadel, and the Ho Dynasty Citadel.

The heritage sites have repeatedly won global acclaim in recent years.

Launched in 1993 and heralded as the "travel industry's equivalent of the Oscars" by The Wall Street Journal, the WTA awards are based on votes by the public and travel professionals across the globe.

World’s best golf destination 

A golf course on Ba Na Hills in the central city of Da Nang City. Photo courtesy of Ba Na Hills Golf Club. 

For the first time, Vietnam received the World's Best Golf Destination award at the international World Golf Awards, a part of the World Travel Awards, held in the United Arab Emirates in October. 

The country beat seven other nominees, Argentina, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Oman, Portugal, and South Africa to win the prize. The World Golf Awards, the most prestigious in the golf tourism industry, have been given annually since 2014, based on votes by professionals and consumers.

According to the Vietnam Professional Golf Association, over 70,000 people played golf as a leisure sport in 2018, up from 10,000 in 2009. The country has more than 30 golf courses.

Asia’s leading culinary destination 

Fresh summer rolls served at a market in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Ma Lum.

Vietnam was crowned "Asia’s Leading Culinary Destination" at the World Travel Awards (WTA) for Asia and Oceania in October. It was the first time the country achieved this honor though Vietnamese cuisine has won considerable praise from international tourists and rave reviews from renowned travel magazines.

Graham Cooke, the founder of WTA, said Vietnamese cuisine has crossed the country’s borders and become one of the "must-try" experiences.

Google honors 400-year-old town Hoi An

An aerial view of Hoi An, a UNESCO heritage site. Photo by Shutterstock/Hoang Anh. 

Google Doodle in July 16 featured the ancient town of Hoi An on its homepage, making it the first Vietnamese destination to be honored thus. It was to mark the traditional Lantern Festival, held on the 14th day of each lunar month.

An image of Hoi An in central Vietnam with symbols of the Chua Cau (Pagoda Bridge) and colorful lanterns became Google’s logo for the day.

The Google Doodle commemorates holidays, events, achievements, and people.

Hoi An was recognized as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site in 1998 and has become one of the top holiday destinations in Vietnam, attracting over five million visitors this year, including more than four million foreigners.

The Pagoda Bridge, a national relic that appears on VND20,000 bills, has been an iconic landmark of the 400-year-old town. It was built in the early 17th century by Japanese traders who once made up a large part of the town’s population.

Colorful floating lanterns are also a distinct feature of Hoi An where lights are switched off during the lantern festival and the only light comes from the lanterns floated on the river.

Story by Nguyen Quy