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Money talks: Vietnam's tourism boss envies cash-rich Asian neighbors

By Vi Vu   May 30, 2017 | 04:10 am PT
Money talks: Vietnam's tourism boss envies cash-rich Asian neighbors
Foreign tourists in Hoi An ancient town. Photo by VnExpress/Tien Dung
Minister Nguyen Ngoc Thien says PR efforts are 'going nowhere' because the country doesn't have deep enough pockets.

Vietnam’s tourism minister has urged lawmakers to establish a new fund for promotional campaigns, saying the country needs to spend much more than its current annual budget of $2.5 million to impress tourists.

The tourism fund would come under the revised Tourism Law which is being reviewed by around 500 lawmakers during a month-long session of the National Assembly, Vietnam’s top legislative body.

Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Ngoc Thien said at a Monday meeting during the session that the fund is “very necessary” for boosting tourism promotions and making them more effective.

He said Vietnam’s annual budget for this job is much smaller than the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by other countries in the region.

Vietnam’s promotion budget is less than 4 percent of Thailand's and 3 percent of Singapore’s, according to 2016 data from the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT).

“Our tourism promotions are going nowhere and do not have a lasting impression on tourists,” Thien said, as cited in a post on the government website.

At another meeting in February, Nguyen Van Tuan, head of the VNAT, said that Vietnam needs between $22-31 million each year for promotional campaigns to draw more tourists.

Tuan said the tourism development fund could be sourced from the state budget, visa and sightseeing fees, private sponsorship and an extra fee for foreign tourists who stay at local hotels. Several travel companies have said the last part would be controversial as the fee would create a sense of discrimination between foreign and local visitors.

Vietnam raked in VND400 trillion ($17.6 billion) from tourism in 2016, with a record number of foreign visitors reaching more than 10 million.

With visa waiver policies for various big markets in Asia and Europe, as well as a new e-visa system, the industry hopes to welcome 17-20 million foreign visitors and gain $35 billion per year by 2020, contributing 10 percent to the country’s GDP, compared to the current 7.5.

With current revenues as they are, Vietnam has already been relying on private sponsorship for tourism promotions.

Most recently, former tourism ambassador Ly Nha Ky spent one million euros ($1.09 million) to promote Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnamese cinema at the Cannes Film Festival.

Meanwhile, cities and provinces are doing what they can with what they have to promote themselves.

Quang Binh Province in central Vietnam and Ninh Binh Province in the north, two locations used to film  "Kong: Skull Island", have been running campaigns on the back of the Hollywood blockbuster. Quang Binh made an entire promotional video featuring the director himself, while Ninh Binh has reconstructed part of the film sets for tourists.

Da Nang has been building its tourism brand with an annual international fireworks festival which is getting bigger every year.

Last December, Hanoi signed a $2 million deal with American television network CNN to air commercials featuring the capital around the world over the next two years.

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