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|Foreign tourists now do almost all of their bookings online rather than through traditional travel agents|
On a cool autumn day in Ta Hien street in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, Danny and Rebecca, two tourists from England visiting Vietnam for the first time, were enjoying draught beer and fermented pork rolls. Having just arrived in Hanoi that morning, they were armed with a list of interesting activities they wished to experience. Pointing to her smartphone, Rebecca said, “We want to try something very “Hanoi” and the smartphone brought us to this place.”
Tourists like Danny and Rebecca can be found in most famous destinations in Vietnam. With just a simple digital device like a smartphone or tablet connected to wifi and 4G, tourists can easily travel everywhere without worrying about getting lost or language barriers, without needing a tour guide for support.
A survey on international tourists to Vietnam in 2017 shows that 71 per cent searched for information of destinations online and 64 per cent used online services during their trip at least once. ‘Online travelling’ to Vietnam is on an upward trend with a growth rate of up to 50 per cent, twice as high as the rise in e-commerce.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, with its advancements in information technology, has stimulated traditional tourism to transform into “smart tourism”, with visitors purchasing train or air tickets through applications or websites and tourism applications doing the job of tour guides, guiding visitors through attractions.
Nguyen Van Tuan, general director of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, said, “Travel arrangements were mainly made through travel agencies. With the support of technology, tourists can search for information and arrange their trips, freeing up more time for sightseeing and shopping. Problems can be solved quicker online.”
Key to attracting tourists
Smart tourism has been implemented in many different forms around the world. In Santander on Spain’s northerm coast, the application SmartSantanderRA displays views of Spanish cities from past decades next to scenes of current life on the beaches. Visitors to Japan’s Fukuoka city can use mobile apps to make payments and complete hotel check-in procedures in advance.
In Vietnam, the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has bolstered development in all fields, including smart tourism, with the expectation of an increased number of foreign visitors to Vietnam.
Tourism services on a technology platform have been implemented with positive initial results. In 2017, Airbnb – an accommodation booking system – honoured Hanoi with the sixth rank in its list of “the most attractive destinations in the world”, with the rate of bookings through this system rising by 261 per cent in only one year.
Early this year, the Temple of Literature Culture and Science Centre put into operation its automatic multi-language guide system in 14 spots around the relic, serving both local and foreign tourists. The Thang Long-Hanoi Heritage Conservation Centre also launched an automatic guiding system for smartphone users in late January 2018 to support visitors to the Thang Long Imperial Citadel relic. The application can be downloaded on App Store or Play and includes illustrations and videos to guide around the relic site in Vietnamese, English, and Japanese.
Recently Hanoi launched its new Hanoi City Tour Hop on-Hop off, which offers free wifi and a five-language automatic guide system, makes 13 stops, and drives past more than 20 famous attractions.
Ho Chi Minh City is also tapping into its tourism development potential with the support of digital technology, with a project launched last year to develop into a smart city during the 2017-2020 period, vision to 2025. The project’s four targets include maintaining a sustainable economic growth rate, efficient urban management, improvement of living and working conditions, and enhancement of the management of people and organisations.
Twelve other tourist destinations including Sapa, Ninh Binh, Phu Quoc, and Vung Tau are also deploying smart travel applications to support tourists to quickly find ATMs, petrol stations, and healthcare and other services.
Travel agencies take advantage of IT
At the Smart Tourism Forum, part of the eighth Tourism Promotion Organisation for Asia Pacific Cities Forum held in Ho Chi Minh City in June, Perry Hobson of Taylor University in Malaysia said technologies such as travel websites, social media, and smartphones have considerably changed the way services are provided. Travellers can now search for information via multiple channels, meaning travel agencies must constantly strive to keep abreast of the new trend.
“Travel companies have to change the way they approach potential customers and create new tourism products. They no longer need to conduct customer surveys in a traditional manner given the availability of new technologies, and the new technologies can be applied to bring new experiences to tourists and avoid lagging behind rivals,” said Hobson.
Today, many Vietnamese travel agencies are also trying to deploy smart applications to improve their management systems, from marketing and sales to customer care. Systems are being implemented that all employees can access to view the preferences and habits of each guest. The system also helps company leaders understand the status of a tour as well as the level of interest of customers in each location by month, helping them make business plans.
Tran Trong Kien, chairman of Thien Minh Group, which manages online booking site Ivivu, described how the site gathers information when guests book services. The app understands automatically what a customer needs, and accumulates knowledge relevant to a range of guests. The more customers use the service, the greater understanding the application gains. The app can suggest suitably priced schedules that meet the customer’s requirements and the best time to travel, among other things.
However, Nguyen Van My, general director of Lua Viet Tours Co., Ltd., said, “Tourists planning trips independently using online information is an increasing trend, but many people still look for supports from travel agencies. Cash is still the preferred payment method in Vietnam, so the possibilities for promoting the application of technology in tourism are limited.”
As fact, the application of technology in tourism is in its infancy in Vietnam and, so far, only available for attractions in major destinations. Mountainous and remote areas are still opening up to tourism, and the investment required to develop smart applications is huge, meaning small travel agencies may not be able to afford them.