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Vietnam unable to cash in on high tourist numbers

By Vy An, Nguyen Quy   December 7, 2018 | 11:18 pm PT
Vietnam unable to cash in on high tourist numbers
Foreign women sunbathe at Cua Dai Beach in southern town of Hoi An. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong
While impressively increasing numbers of foreigners are visiting Vietnam, they spend less here than in other countries in the region.

Vietnam attracted a record 14 million foreign tourists in the first 11 months of this year, up 21 percent year-on-year. The number could go as high as 15 million for the whole year, according to the General Statistics Office. The total number of foreign arrivals last year was 12.9 million.

However, the country has not been able to cash in on this impressive growth in the number of foreign visitors.

Survey results released by John Lindquist at the Vietnam Travel and Tourism Summit Wednesday showed that foreign tourists spent $96 a day on average in Vietnam last year, three times lower than in Singapore ($325), and well below that of the Philippines ($115), Indonesia ($132), Malaysia ($134), and Thailand ($163).

Lindquist is a member of VisitBritain, the tourist board of the Great Britain, and a consultant of the U.S-backed Boston Consulting Group.

According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), on average, a foreign visitor spent $900 on a trip to Vietnam, compared to Singapore ($1,105), Indonesia ($1,109) and Thailand ($1,565).

On average, foreigners stayed for 9.5 days in Vietnam, equivalent to the amount in Thailand.

Foreign tourists enjoy beer and food at the intersection of Hanois Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen streets during the World Cup 2018 season. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Foreign tourists enjoy beer and food at the intersection of Hanoi's Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen streets during the World Cup 2018 season. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

The main reason for the low spending is that Vietnam has yet to really establish itself as an ideal destination for shopping services and nightlife activities while other regional peers like Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia have done a great job, Vu The Binh, vice chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, told VnExpress.

Lindquist said Vietnam should relax visa policies, upgrade traffic infrastructure and create more entertainment spaces for foreign tourists to visit and spend more money.

The Vietnamese government has stepped up efforts to influence foreign tourists into returning to the country through relaxed visa policies and other incentives.

It recently approved a two-year extension until 2021 of the pilot e-visa issuance program for foreigners visiting the country, in which citizens from 46 countries are allowed to enter Vietnam for 30 days.

Visitors from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. will continue to receive visa exemptions for the next three years in a move aimed at giving the tourism industry a growth impetus.

However, visa hassles remain a bottleneck for tourism development.

The Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) has proposed that more countries are added to the visa exemption list, like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium, and that citizens of more nationalities are allowed to apply for electronic visas.

TAB comprises representatives from a broad base of industry leaders and stakeholders in Vietnam’s travel and tourism sector.

Tourism experts at the Vietnam Travel and Tourism Summit, organized by VnExpress, also advised the country to focus more on alluring arrivals from Europe and the U.S. 

Western Europeans are big spenders, shelling out on average $1,316 per trip while a foreign visitor spent $900 on a trip to Vietnam, according to VNAT.

VNAT statistics also show that Chinese arrivals accounted for the lion’s share of 31 percent of the 12.9 million international travelers to Vietnam last year.

However, Chinese visitors made up only 23.9 percent of the total earnings of VND316 trillion ($13.56 billion) from international tourists visiting the country.

With visa waivers for several countries in Asia and Europe, the tourism industry hopes to welcome 17-20 million foreign visitors.

It expects to earn $35 billion in revenues per year by 2020, contributing 10 percent to the country’s GDP, compared to the current 7.5 percent.

A global report published last month by the United Nations World Tourism Organization ranked Vietnam’s tourism growth as fourth highest in the world.

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