Vietnam must boost image for overseas visitors

International tourism in Vietnam has not picked up as expected after the country reopened again to welcome visitors after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Foreign visitors visit Vietnam. (Illustrative photo: Saigon Investment)

Foreign visitors visit Vietnam. (Illustrative photo: Saigon Investment)

Vietnam has failed to attract a large number of overseas visitors and now tourism agencies must find ways to enhance the image of Vietnam and make it more attractive to foreign travelers.

Although the number of domestic tourists has increased significantly after the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of international visitors has plunged. This is putting huge pressure on the tourism sector, and travel agencies and tourism organizations are being called to take drastic action to revive international tourism once again.

The 2022 summary report by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism shows a magnificent picture of domestic tourism with a rise in the number of travelers to 101.3 million. This is an increase of more than one and a half times the target set at the beginning of the year of 60 million visitors, and far exceeding the number of 85 million visitors in 2019.

In the international tourism segment, however, Vietnam welcomed only 3.5 million visitors, making up just 70 percent of the target of five million visitors set at the beginning of the year, and much lower than the number of 18 million visitors in 2019. There is now a definite need to find the real cause of the problem.

No Chinese visitors

When Vietnam reopened officially to visitors again in mid-March 2022, the tourism industry released growing numbers of international visitors searching Vietnam on the Internet. This was expected to bring the hope of recovery in the international tourism segment after nearly two years of no tourism activity during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the growth of incoming international visitors is still very slow.

Many analysts believe that the reason why the number of international visitors has not been able to increase is that Chinese tourists have not been able to travel due to the country's zero Covid policy. Other potential markets such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan (China) have also not yet fully recovered. The Russian market and European tourists have been adversely affected by high inflation and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Indian visitors are a potential source but still quite new, so it will take time to attract them. Therefore, tourists may well have been searching for Vietnam on the web, but very few have come to visit.

Looking at statistics of other Southeast Asian countries, especially Thailand, we can see that tourists are now traveling in large numbers. Potential visitor groups to Thailand are not different from Vietnam travel groups, however, by the beginning of December, Thailand's tourism industry had completed its target of welcoming 10 million international visitors in 2022.

Even in the last two months of the year, many of Thailand's visitors from its main markets in Europe had reached near pre-pandemic heights. In 2023, the country aims to welcome 20 million international visitors. Similarly, Singapore and Indonesia have also completed their target of international visitors for 2022.

Vietnam was one of the first Southeast Asian countries to reopen and welcome international visitors. Therefore, the main cause of the falling number of international visitors to Vietnam is the inflexible visa policy. Currently, Vietnam is a visa-free country for citizens of only 24 countries with a stay limit of 15 days, while Thailand offers free visa service for citizens of 65 countries with a stay of 30 to 45 days, or even up to 90 days in some cases.

It must also be accepted that the promotional material of Vietnam's tourism industry is still ineffective as products are not new and services are not professional. This is the main reason why Vietnam has been unsuccessful in creating a great impression on visitors and attracting them to come again. We suppose that tourist behavior has changed post-pandemic, but the fact is that we have failed to attract visitors. We are still too proud, and we just offer our customers what we have, rather than what they really need.

Ineffective promotion

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh chaired an online and offline conference, organized at the Government Office in Hanoi on December 21 to find out ways to attract international visitors to Vietnam. When asked to analyze the reasons why Vietnam failed to attract international tourists even though the country began to reopen quite early after the pandemic, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh wanted to know the reasons. He wanted to know whether it was because of various measures taken or because the implementation has failed or whether concerned ministries had not fulfilled their responsibilities.

The Prime Minister also wanted to know what businesses had done in this matter and if they had diversified the tourism markets, products, and supply chain. He asked if tourism products were attractive enough and if digital transformation and green transformation had been included in the tourism industry. He was keen to know if tourism communication and promotional activities were fully and effectively functional.

These questions are awaiting satisfactory answers from the tourism industry because this industry is responsible for promoting growth and development. Regarding the visa policy, the tourism industry may not make its own decisions, but there are other factors such as products and promotional campaigns. If the tourism industry does not take charge, international visitors will become even fewer in numbers.

Some say that the smokeless industry will only be able to ensure sustainable development, and really needs the collaboration of other industries, provinces, cities, and businesses. But the tourism industry must play the pivotal role of the flagship business to achieve the required success.

We may have been too proud of our record number of visitors in 2019, and we could have been deceived by the growing numbers on online searches for Vietnam as a destination. We must be more realistic and have a good understanding of our actual situation as it is. As the Covid-19 pandemic eased in early 2022, most countries were almost at the same start in the race to welcome visitors back, but Vietnam has fallen behind after nearly a year. Businesses still have no favorable policy for tourism, causing the tourism sector and tour operators to remain helpless in the industry.

The strategies introduced now to promote tourism must be practical and well-planned so as to be effective for international tourism growth in the coming years. The figures should be based on specific strategies to attract visitors otherwise businesses will be unable to achieve their goals for the tourism industry. In 2023, the tourism industry has set a target of 8 million international visitors, which compared to other countries is not too ambitious. But then nobody can be sure if it can be achieved, and what specific strategies will be taken to reach these goals is a matter of concern for many people.

Some people are assuming that now that the Chinese market is once again reopening and some flights to China have been resumed, it will create a positive effect on Vietnam's tourism industry in 2023 because Chinese people are wanting to travel again after the very strict Covid-19 restrictions.

However, now only time will tell, because it is not certain whether Chinese visitors will return sooner, or whether some restrictions will still hold them back. Therefore, it is not very wise to just wait for Chinese visitors to come to Vietnam, but it is important to lure visitors from other countries as well.

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