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Vietnam tourism hamstrung by lack of funds for marketing

By Phong Vinh   December 4, 2018 | 12:07 am PT
Vietnam tourism hamstrung by lack of funds for marketing
Old houses are seen across the Hoai River in Hoi An. Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi
Vietnam seems to be losing the tourism promotion battle at home not to speak about globally.

The International Tourism Fair was held in HCMC last September by the tourism ministry and the city. Originally meant to attract visitors to the country, the fair, over the last 14 years, has instead become a place for foreign tourism agencies to find outbound Vietnamese tourists.

At Japan and South Korea's tourism booths, guests get to try on traditional costumes.

The Japanese booth was the biggest one this year. It and those of Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea dazzled with their modern design and eye-catching images that drew visitors like a magnet.

The Cambodian booth had an idol of a four-sided god and a full-sized replica of a temple, and entertained visitors with non-stop music and dance performances.

The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism's (VNAT) booth on the other hand barely distinguished itself from last year with the agency thinking large photos of tourist attractions would suffice.

Meagre tourism promotion budget 

At many meetings, VNAT leaders said the government’s funding for tourism promotion is too low and not competitive enough with that of other countries.

Vietnam's tourism marketing budget is around $2 million a year, just 2.9 percent of Thailand’s, 2.5 percent of Singapore’s and 1.9 percent of Malaysia’s, according to Forbes.

Thus, Vietnam spent $0.15 per visitor considering there were almost 13 million arrivals last year. Thailand, which received 35 million visitors, spent nearly $2 with its budget of $69 million.

But Pham Trung Luong, a former deputy director of the Vietnam Institute for Tourism Development, said: "It does not matter if we receive more or less funds as compared to how professional our promotion is. Have we spent the $2 million efficiently every year?"

Before traveling to Vietnam with her family, Michalina Stovaka of Poland tried to find information about the country, but there was little available from official sources, she said.

"I had to consult personal blogs and social networks of foreigners," she said.

Stovaka is not an isolated case in the community of travelers to Vietnam. Official tourism websites are very poor in content, talking more about government management and policy rather than what tourists could hope to discover.

Huynh Phan Phuong Hoang, deputy general director of Vietnam's leading travel company Vietravel, said: "We need to increase the budget for practical promotional activities and adopt current trends like promoting through apps, social networks, websites, and events in collaboration with travel bloggers."

These are cost-effective promotional means which Vietnamese tourism seems to have overlooked, she said.

The spectacular Ha Long Bay. Photo by VnExpress/Meo Gia 

The spectacular Ha Long Bay. Photo by VnExpress/Meo Gia 

Waiting for tourism promotion fund?

A tourism promotion fund found a mention in the 2005 Law on Tourism, but remains on paper more than a decade later due to a lack of legal mechanisms and systems.

Amendments to the law approved in 2017 name it "Tourism Development Assistance Fund".

The fund will be replenished from the state budget on an annual basis, but will also get money from other sources like entry and visa fees, donations and other lawful means.

However, in addition to promoting tourism, the fund is also meant for market research and development of tourism products and training and development of human resources for tourism and marketing. This has many people in the tourism industry worried about spreading the money too thin to be of real benefit.

Vu The Binh, vice chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, said the Tourism Promotion Fund and the Tourism Development Assistance Fund should be clearly distinguished from one another since "the two concepts are quite different."

Luong said, echoing Binh’s point of view: "If we identify tourism promotion as the key objective, we will attract more funding sources including that from businesses."

"The content used abroad to promote Vietnamese tourism is not appropriate. If, for instance, tourists are fond of nature but the tourism industry brags about Vietnam’s culture, it would fail."

Information channels are poor due to a lack of thorough research, Luong said. 

"Not everyone depends on leaflets handed out at fairs. There are markets where potential tourists like to watch television or go on social channels. Thus, it is important to study information channels in each market to be effective," he said.

Luong noted tourism promotion funds should focus on digital marketing through websites, Facebook, Google, Instagram and Youtube.

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