Vietnam tourism’s overwhelming reliance on Chinese, S Koreans worrying: experts

By Minh Nga   July 23, 2018 | 05:00 pm PT
Vietnam is in the process of making tourism an economy spearhead, and its dependence on two Asian markets is worrying experts.
South Korean visitors at Da Nang International Airport in Da Nang City. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

South Korean visitors at Da Nang International Airport in Da Nang. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

More than 7.89 million foreign tourists came to Vietnam in the first half of this year, 27.2 percent higher than in the same period last year.

A massive 2.56 million of this number were Chinese, up 36.1 percent, and over 1.7 million were South Korean, up 60.7 percent.

In 2017, visitor numbers had risen sharply, by 29.1 percent, to reach an all-time high of 12.9 million, according to the General Statistics Office.

Again South Koreans and Chinese had accounted for the lion’s share.

In this scenario, the mission to diversify Vietnam’s tourism markets has a long way to go.

This year the numbers of tourists from the third and fourth largest markets, Japan and Europe, were 404,000 and 1.08 million, up 6.6 percent and 11 percent year-on-year.

Vietnam’s dependence on China and South Korea is causing a skew in the tourism industry.

For years Chinese and South Koreans have only been visiting Nha Trang and Da Nang on the central coast of Vietnam.

In the two cities demand for hotel rooms and occupancy rates have always been high while elsewhere in the country supply exceeds demand, Tran Trong Kien, chairman of Thien Minh Group, a leading integrated travel and hospitality group based in Southeast Asia, told Saigon Times newspaper.

South Korean tourists wear Vietnamese traditional long dress ao dai in Da Nang City. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

South Korean tourists wear Vietnamese traditional dress ao dai in Da Nang. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

“There is now a clear imbalance in the industry. So many tourists flock to Nha Trang and Da Nang but other tourist destinations in the country are still looking for visitors since Chinese and South Koreans only want to go to beaches.”

According to the tourism department of Khanh Hoa Province, home to Nha Trang, 1.17 million foreigners visited the province in the first five months this year, up 50.6 percent from the same period last year.

Among them were 747,000 Chinese, a staggering increase of 162 percent, followed by Russians with 207,500, up 2.7 percent, and South Koreans with 18,120, up 37 percent, the department said.

More than 1.6 million foreigners visited Da Nang in the first half of this year, an increase of almost 50 percent.

The number of South Koreans doubled to 800,000, while Chinese arrivals rose by 36 percent to 368,000, the city’s tourism department said.

Chinese tourists in Nha Trang Town. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc

Chinese tourists in Nha Trang. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Ngoc

High flight costs

Kien of Thien Minh Group said to make tourism steady and sustainable, Vietnam should diversify its markets and develop cultural tourism products to attract tourists to various parts rather than just the sea.

Many travel companies told the Saigon Times there are still many problems plaguing the tourism industry.

One of them is the high flight cost to Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City-based tourist firm Vong Tron Viet said they have been offering services to Indian tourists for the past two years but have only managed to get small groups of Indians.

The main reason Vietnam is unattractive to Indians is the high cost of flight tickets since they have to transit in Singapore, Thailand or Malaysia, it said.

It sometimes costs them two times as much to reach Vietnam as Bali in Indonesia while the traveling time is almost the same, so it is not difficult to understand why Indians choose Bali over somewhere in Vietnam, the company's director, Phan Dinh Hue, said.

It is a common sight in Thailand to see large groups of Indian visitors, but not in Vietnam.

The Private Economic Development Research Board and Tourism Advisory Board recently proposed to the government that more players should be allowed to enter the aviation business to make the sector more competitive and lower costs.

They pointed out that tourists account for the major proportion of air passengers -- 70 percent -- and more than a few flight routes only serve tourists.

The aviation industry is now dominated by Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar Pacific and VietJet Air, but with Vietnam Airlines holding a 70 percent stake in Jetstar Pacific, the competition is obviously not intense.

Vietnam aims to make tourism a key driver of economic growth. Tourism is expected to contribute 10 percent to Vietnam’s gross domestic product by 2020 when the country hopes to welcome 20 million foreign visitors and earn $35 billion in revenues.

The country has a target of 15-17 million arrivals this year.

Deputy Prime Minister Vuong Dinh Hue told the National Assembly last October that the country needs to stop relying on crude oil and focus on tourism to sustain economic growth.

Hue said since tourism has a direct impact on the services sector, more tourists mean higher economic growth.

“It is better to get one million tourists than try to find one million tons of crude oil because tourism is more eco-friendly and safe for the economy.”

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