Tourists wearing protective facemasks amid concerns of COVID-19 pandemic take a selfie outside the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Hanoi on Feb 11, 2020. (MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP)
HONG KONG – The return of Chinese tourists presents a great opportunity for Vietnam’s tourism sector, experts said, calling on authorities in Hanoi to launch new strategies to attract more visitors as competition heats up with other regional destinations.
China’s eased travel restrictions “is great news to Vietnam and other countries in the world that receive Chinese tourists,” said Ngo Lan Phuong, chief executive of Kim Lien International Travel in Vietnam. “In Vietnam’s tourism sector, we are all well-prepared to welcome them back.”
The key for Vietnam is how to make Chinese tourists choose the Southeast Asian nation as their first travel destination, following China’s adjustments in its COVID-19 policies and eased restrictions on cross-border travel from Jan 8, she said, noting that changing behavior of tourists requires swift adaptation and more high-quality tourism products and services.
As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, region is well placed to receive a big boost from China’s refined policies, Vietnam will be among the clear winners, as Chinese tourists made up around 30 percent of the nation’s visitors before the pandemic, the Vietnam Investment Review has noted.
Citing a report by HSBC, the newspaper under Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment said the significance of the tourism sector to Vietnam's job market cannot be underestimated.
Since China announced it will reopen for international travelers, our government and travel business have discussed it regularly.
Dang Manh Phuoc, CEO, Outbox Consulting
Around 25 percent of the nation’s workforce is said to be associated with the food, beverage and accommodation-related sectors, while the informal job market is even more sensitive to tourism, such as those working in restaurants and entertainment.
Chinese Ambassador to Vietnam Xiong Bo, in an interview with Vietnamese media earlier in January, said China is accelerating its pace to walk out of the shadow of the pandemic, which provides an opportunity for the two countries to resume tourism cooperation.
“Vietnam has rich tourism resources; destinations such as Ha Long Bay and Nha Trang are very popular among Chinese tourists,” Xiong was quoted as saying by the Vietnam government news portal.
China was Vietnam's largest tourism market with 5.8 million people visiting the Southeast Asian country in 2019, accounting for nearly one-third of international arrivals.
“Since China announced it will reopen for international travelers, our government and travel business have discussed it regularly,” said Dang Manh Phuoc, CEO of Outbox Consulting, a travel and hospitality market research company in Vietnam.
For example, a conference discussing measures to attract Chinese tourists to Vietnam was held on Jan 9 by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.
During a conference on Chinese tourists on Jan 9 held by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, Vu The Binh, chairman of the Vietnamese Tourism Association, said it is important for Vietnam to think about urgent solutions to quickly lure Chinese tourists, and issue strict regulation on managing the activity, thus creating best impression on visitors and ensuring sustainable development.
Phuoc said there is some passivity in terms of how to build a policy to welcome Chinese tourists as Vietnam did not reach the goal of welcoming international visitors like Thailand and other regional countries, and it still has a lot to expect in the Chinese market.
And Vietnam needs a policy that can ensure travel safety, as well as be open enough to attract visitors. “In order to be more proactive and attract a bigger number of Chinese visitors, Vietnam tourism needs to change its strategy and approach …,” Phuoc said, adding that travel-related businesses should adopt different approaches, engage more with the media and step up market research to tap the China market better.
Vietnam has set a target to welcome about 8 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2023, according to the General Administration of Vietnam Tourism.
Though the country, with 3.6 million foreign tourists last year, failed to meet a goal of 5 million visitors in 2022, Phuong from Kim Lien International Travel said the goal for this year will not be very difficult to reach if more Chinese tourists come as China further eases its cross-border travel policies.
“The most important thing is that Vietnam should have a detailed plan,” said Phuong, noting that her company is planning offerings such as cooking classes to allow tourists from China to better experience Vietnam’s food culture.
Before the pandemic, about 80 percent of Kim Lien's foreign tourists were from China, including the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions.
Phuong said she is in talks with several Chinese tourism companies, discussing the changing preferences of Chinese tourists, such as how they now prefer travelling in small groups instead of larger groups as before the pandemic.
The travel industry insider said she expects the number of Chinese tourists to Vietnam to go up in the next month or two, if more flights between China and Vietnam are resumed by then.
Phuoc from Outbox Consulting said the return of the Chinese market means the restoration of supply chains of products and services for Vietnam tourism, and that related businesses will have an opportunity to re-operate after more than two years of lying dormant.
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