Standing firm

Vietnamese tourism players are calling for the government to improve infrastructure; pictured below, Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica in downtown Ho Chi Minh City

Despite a dip in arrivals from top source market China, Vietnam manages to register growth in total international footfalls. Greg Lowe reports

Vietnam’s tourism industry is posting steady growth despite anti-Chinese riots in May which dampened the performance of a destination that was already faltering due to structural issues such as deteriorating product quality and a lack of strategic vision at the administrative level, travel specialists say.

Arrivals from China, the country’s key source market, still rose 26 per cent in the first seven months of the year, according to Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT). In July, however, they declined 28.8 per cent on the same month a year earlier, showing the heavy price the industry has paid as a result of violent protests in response to Beijing’s expansion in the South China Sea.

Edouard George, president of Phoenix Voyages Group, said there has been some recovery since May with more requests for longhaul MICE business, though regional corporate travellers remain cautious.

“VNAT is trying hard to restore confidence (in the destination) but with limited effects. Everyone was caught by surprise (by the riots). Hopefully, we will see more action towards the third and fourth quarters,” said George.

Given the poor relations with China and a lack of tourism infrastructure and product diversity, Vietnam will find it increasingly difficult to compete with regional destinations unless VNAT develops a clear strategy for the industry which includes high-quality marketing campaigns and efforts to attract higher spending visitors, said Pham Manh Ha, CEO of Luxury Travel Vietnam.

“Our government should focus more on investment and comprehensively upgrading infrastructure… VNAT should focus on strategic planning to develop tourism before even (increasing fees),” Pham urged. “Raising (visa) prices without upgrading service quality will reduce the number of visitors to Vietnam. Look at the other South-east Asian destinations like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore – they always have policies to encourage tourists for each season. These policies (come) from their government (so ours needs to play a more active role).”

Some industry players take a more positive view of the sector’s performance.

Josephine Lim, vice president global sales Asia Pacific and regional director Southeast Asia at Preferred Hotel Group, is confident Vietnam will reach VNAT’s target of 8.2 million visitors by 2015, mainly thanks to an increase in air access.

During the first seven months of the year international arrivals rose 15.6 per cent to 4.9 million over the same period the year before, according to recent data from VNAT. Figures had risen steadily from January to April, with both month-on-month and year-on-year increases for every month except March. Then after the fracas in May, foreign visitors declined each month when compared with the previous year, falling 4.9 per cent in June and 14.2 per cent in July. Cumulative year-to-date growth remains positive thanks to strong performance in the first four months of the year.

Leisure and business travel have been equally affected by the troubles, with the former dipping by 15.4 per cent to a total 2.9 million tourists in the first seven months and the latter declining 13.9 per cent to 815,000.

Overall the hotel sector, which STR Global data shows has 494 properties with 47,770 rooms, remained steady with slight increases in both average daily rate and RevPAR despite a slight dip in occupancy.

There are another 44 hotels with 9,499 keys in the pipeline.

“There is an increasing supply of new room inventory into the country, with both international and independent hotel brands planting flags in gateway and secondary cities,” said Lim. “This reflects the potential that multinational companies and international tourists see in Vietnam as both a business and leisure destination of choice in the region.”

Lothar Pehl, senior vice president, operations and global initiatives, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Asia Pacific, observes similar trends.

“Short-haul Asia business continues to grow year-on-year with markets such as South Korea and Japan leading percentage growth. In the longer-haul markets, we are seeing growth from Russia and Australia.”

MICE travel to Vietnam was also on the rise, he said.


Three days around Hanoi

JW Marriott Hanoi Hotel opened in late-2013 to offer 450 rooms and 17 meeting venues

Check into JW Marriott Hanoi Hotel and head straight to a cooking course to master the art of making goi cuon, traditional soft spring rolls, and other local delicacies.

After lunch at JW Cafe, take a trip to downtown Hanoi and see Hoan Kiem Lake, the pagoda and remains of the giant turtle which once inhabited the waters. A rickshaw tour of the Old Quarter will follow. Later, travel on foot to St Joseph’s Cathedral and spend an hour browsing local shops and drinking Vietnamese coffee.

Welcome the evening at Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi Hotel, one of the city’s most iconic properties – first with cocktails at Le Club, then with dinner at Spicies Garden Restaurant.

Leaving the hotel early in the morning, you will make your way to Hoa Lu, the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries. A coffee break will be taken along the way.

Visit the Temple of Dinh Tien Hoang, built to honour the first emperor of the country, then walk to the nearby Temple of Le Dai Hanh. Both temples provide classic examples of architecture from the era.

Continue on to Ninh Binh province, a journey which takes about 45 minutes. Embark on a 15km cycling tour of the local area, travelling around the lakes and stopping off at Bich Dong pagoda, a 15th century structure built into the mountain and caves.

Lunch will be had at a local restaurant.

Later, journey by sampan along the Ngo Dong River and through a limestone gorge and cave complex at Tam Coc.

At 16.30, transfer back to Hanoi and proceed to dinner at Quan An Ngon restaurant in downtown Hanoi.

Transfer to Van Phuc village, which has been renowned for its fine silkmaking for the past millennium. Most of the local community is involved in the trade and visitors can watch the entire process from silk extraction, to dyeing and weaving.

After lunch at a local restaurant, transfer to Ha Thai village, an epicentre of artisans who produce Vietnamese lacquerware. After this, return to hotel and the rest of the afternoon is free for you.

Dinner tonight is at Club Opera, an upscale Vietnamese restaurant.

Need to Know

New InterContinental hotel arrives in Nha Trang

Located a 40-minute drive from Cam Ranh International Airport, the beachfront InterContinental Nha Trang features 279 rooms and suites, three F&B outlets, Spa InterContinental and three outdoor pools. A MICE team is at hand to help clients make the best use of the facilities which include seven meeting rooms, pre-function space and a grand ballroom. The latter is said to be the city’s largest pillarless grand ballroom.

VietJet connects Taipei with Ho Chi Minh City

Come December 12, Vietnam-based carrier VietJet will begin five-times-weekly flights between Taipei and Ho Chi Minh City.

The new service will operate on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.

Flights depart Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport at 14.30 local time and touch down in Taipei Songshan Airport three hours and 25 minutes later.

Return flights leave Taipei Songshan Airport at 20.00.

Hoi An offers a new spot for rejuvenation

Perfect as a reward for business warriors, the newly-opened Alma Courtyard Hoi An features a number of spa journeys that will rejuvenate the mind, body and soul.

Presenting an all-inclusive spa concept, the resort is set around a courtyard with stunning terraced pools and lush tropical gardens and offers 145 rooms, a spacious spa with 40 treatment rooms and two restaurants.

A luxurious taste of Vietnam

Remote Lands, a luxury travel specialist, has launched its Vietnamese Culinary Journey tour this year which gives food lovers the chance to spend up to 14 days immersing themselves in local cuisine, from grazing at local markets such as Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City to dining in top restaurants. Other tour highlights include a cooking class with a top Vietnamese chef and visits to the Red and White Sand Dunes in Mui Ne.

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