Why foreign tourists and their money are not parted in Vietnam

By Hoang Phong, Xanh Le   April 16, 2023 | 10:02 pm PT
Why foreign tourists and their money are not parted in Vietnam
Foreign tourists drink beer at a restaurant in Hoi An ancient town, April 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Phong
Many foreign visitors to Vietnam complain about limited nightlife and shopping options and cheap travel experiences, and spend less money in the country than elsewhere in its neighborhood.

Indian Sharma Mrinal visited Ho Chi Minh City last month and said he had little opportunity to spend money due to the lack of sightseeing and entertainment activities.

He said: "Apart from museums and historical sites, there are not many travel experiences in downtown HCMC. HCMC is quite boring compared to Bangkok, and all I can do at night is try street food."

He visited the Cu Chi Tunnels and then left the city for the Mekong Delta.

"The first time I came to HCMC was in 2017. Things have not changed much in six years, and there was no new travel experience.

"In Bangkok, you have more sightseeing options. The Bangkok night scene is also more bustling than HCMC as it has nightclubs and night markets until midnight."

A four-day trip to HCMC cost him less than US$1,000 while in Bangkok he spent nearly $1,300 for a similar length of stay.

John, a tourist from the U.K., said in his country and anywhere else in Europe, people could go out for entertainment at night, but most establishments in Da Nang and Hoi An close before 11 p.m.

"At night I can only walk around Hoi An for half an hour, drink a beer and return to my hotel. There is too little nightlife and I don't know what to do after 11 p.m."

There are not many bars and nightclubs in Hoi An while its old temples and historical sites close at 5 p.m. After the Covid pandemic some clothing stores and souvenir shops have shut down.

John said he spent less than $10 a night in Hoi An, mainly on beer and street food.

Minhy, a South Korean tourist who came last month, said she loves shopping but does want to buy Vietnamese products due to a bad experience in Da Nang a few years ago.

She had bought an agarwood bracelet in a large store for more than VND3 million as a gift for her grandmother, but then found out it was made from ordinary wood and not agarwood.

"I felt sad and disappointed as I thought it was a worthy gift for my grandmother," she said.

Vietnam has for long been listed among the world's cheapest travel destinations by international travel magazines, meaning tourists do not expect to spend much.

In 2019, the year before the onset of the pandemic, it received a record 18 million foreign visitors, but they spent little.

The average spending by a visitor was $7.5 per night, only 7.5% of what they spent in Singapore and a fourth of the spending in Thailand, according to statistics from the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.

Pham Trung Luong, a tourism analyst, said Vietnam has too few unique travel experiences or nightlife for foreign tourists to spend on top of the visa hassles.

"The tourism industry is unwilling to change its products, and foreign tourists are bored and hesitate to return."

Neighboring countries like Thailand have done a good job in developing nighttime activities, he said.

Johnathan Hanh Nguyen, chairman of luxury retailer Imex Pan Pacific Group, said at a tourism conference last month that foreign visitors' spending in Vietnam is much lower than in Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan.

"This is a major problem for Vietnamese tourism. Many foreign tourists complain about lack of shopping options."

He said the tourism industry should pay more attention to shopping if foreign tourists are to spend more in Vietnam.

The opening of duty-free shops in tourist areas is a great way for Vietnam to increase revenues from the tourism industry, he said.

Vu The Binh, chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, said the government needs to offer incentives for developing new products such as golf tourism.

The number of foreign visitors coming to Vietnam to play golf has been increasing, he said, pointing out that of the five million Korean tourists who visited Vietnam in 2019 more than one million came to play golf.

"The tax on golf tourism in Vietnam, including income and excise taxes, stands at 30%, while other countries levy 5-7%."

The taxes need to be slashed to tap the golf tourism market, he added.

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