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|Tourism energised to welcome international visitors|
As Southeast Asia’s tourism hub, Thailand was one of the region’s first countries to promote the early recovery of the tourism industry. Some Thai islands such as Phuket have started pilot projects to vaccinate a good 70 per cent of its population before opening its doors for international guests. Under Phuket’s plans, from July 1, the island will be the first destination in the country to welcome international travellers and completely eliminate quarantine requirements.
Five other tourist destinations, including Koh Samui, Chonburi, and Chiang Mai, will also open for international tourists who have been vaccinated from October. Most of these pilot destinations are located in southern Thailand, which is dependent on international tourism.
However, a representative of Thai AirAsia expressed concerns that the country’s tourism industry would lose its position to other competitors such as Vietnam. According to the airline’s CEO Santisuk Klongchaiya, international airlines may shift their direct flights to other countries. "If the plan to welcome foreigners is not ready, Thailand may lose its tourists to other competitors that have prepared to attract them with a practical scheme,” he said.
Such concerns may be valid as some airlines such as Vietnam Airlines and Bamboo are planning to restart international commercial flights, while the successes in controlling the pandemic have helped Vietnam to gain an image as a safe destination in the eyes of tourists.
According to the recent report by McKinsey, global traveller spending is tending to shift from accommodation to destination adventures and this trend holds true for Vietnam. Instead of spending on luxury accommodations, travellers are saving money for new experiences.
Data from the General Statistics Office of Vietnam shows that spending on accommodation of Vietnamese tourists only accounted for about 15 per cent of travel expenditures in 2019, down from 23 per cent in 2011. Many tourists are booking activities before they travel, which suggests the in-destination experience has a bigger impact in the overall decision-making process.
Since Vietnam lifted its social distancing, the demand for Vietnamese tourism soared, leading to many airports in large cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to become overloaded. Inbound tourism stimulus programmes with cooperation of local governments, online travel agencies, hotels, and airlines have reduced the costs of trips significantly, mainly in entrance tickets and hotel room rates. This is one of the reasons why visitors tend to spend more money on outdoor travel experiences that involve sunshine, beaches, mountains, and nature.
Tours to discover Son Doong cave are a typical example. With a cost of up to $3000, 80 per cent of the visitors participating in the world’s largest cave experience used to be foreigners. But the CEO of Oxalis Adventure Nguyen Chau A, the only company operating the Son Doong tour, said that the number of Vietnamese tourists participating in 2020 was three times higher than in previous years.
“Fortunately, after experiencing the tour, many of our guests introduced the tour to friends, helping Son Doong and Tu Lan to become hotter than ever among locals,” Chau A said.
The shift in tourism has also motivated destinations to actively promote and develop more differentiated experiences to attract visitors. Dalat is the hiking and camping centre, Mui Ne shines with its golf and watersports, and Ninh Binh and Phong Nha-Ke Bang with their nature activities.
Other regions are also marketing their unique experiences such as the northern mountainous region where indigenous products emerge, while Ho Chi Minh City develops more night economic products, and diversified marketing from Binh Duong province puts its festivals in the spotlight.
Similarly, investments are also expected to shift from mega development projects, such as Phu Quoc and Nha Trang, towards small- and medium-scale projects and cities that offer specialised offerings like sports tourism, medical tourism, and even agricultural tourism.
The Phuket model
Vietnam wants to take advantage of its many islands and archipelagos at isolated locations, with attractive natural landscapes and high-end resorts, ready to serve international tourists. With these advantages, Vietnamese tourism can fully experiment and develop models similar to Phuket and Bali that are loved by many foreigners.
According to Deputy Chairman of Phu Quoc People’s Committee Phan Van Nghiep, the Vietnam Embassy in India recently proposed Phu Quoc to welcome high-class tourists from India right away when Vietnam’s tourism reopens. “We are ready to welcome guests, but we have not yet figured out how to do this. Regardless, international tours will be organised and should be taken into account to ensure the safety of domestic tourists,” said Nghiep.
The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) also received a proposal from the South Korean ambassador for an isolated tour combined with healthcare services for Sourth Korean tourists to Vietnam. Instead of short-term tours as before, South Korea wants to bring large groups of tourists to high-end resorts, such as Phu Quoc, to relax and play golf. Soo-Youn Cho, CEO of GAON Travel, said that the demand is huge. “We are still maintaining a flight from South Korea to Vietnam every week for experts, as well as transporting goods. If Vietnam has an itinerary to open its skies for the public, surely South Korean visitors will flock rapidly to Phu Quoc.”
While the plan to welcome international visitors is still being discussed and considered by the VNAT and related agencies, representatives of many travel agencies in the country reaffirmed that they still maintain promotional activities for overseas markets and are ready to serve tourists at any time with the permission of the government.