Vietnam needs to focus on sustainable tourism and unique experiences: expert

Tourism and event specialist, Dr. Trinh Le Anh, Head of Event Management Department at the Faculty of Tourism Studies, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, Hanoi, stresses the significance of prioritizing sustainable tourism in Vietnam and advocates for the promotion of unique cultural experiences to attract tourists.
Vietnam needs to focus on sustainable tourism and unique experiences: expert
Dr. Trinh Le Anh observes a positive transformation in the quality of Vietnam's tourist destinations. (Photo: Provided)

With government policies facilitating tourism, Vietnam's tourism sector stands on the brink of robust development. How would you describe the landscape of Vietnam's tourism in the past year from your perspective?

Post-COVID-19, Vietnam’s tourism sector had a somewhat challenging restart, despite being one of the early countries to fully reopen to international tourism. However, there was significant anticipation for a turnaround in 2023, amidst a generally dim economic outlook.

The target for 2023 was set to welcome 8 million international tourists. By August 2023, Vietnam had nearly achieved this goal, with 7.8 million international visitors.

Tourism data showed a positive trend in the fourth quarter: by September 2023, the number of international tourists reached 8.9 million, surpassing the initial target. Traditionally, the peak tourist season in Vietnam runs from October to April the following year.

Thus, raising the target from 12 to 13 million international tourists, 1.5 times higher than initially planned, is both justified and feasible.

The National Tourism Administration cites four reasons for this revised target: the new e-visa policy effective from August 15, 2023, extending visa duration from 30 to 90 days; effective bilateral and multilateral foreign policies; cultural revival with heritage sites as unique tourism products; and traditional markets reopening and recovering.

By November 2023, international visitors to Vietnam reached over 11.2 million, a 3.8-fold increase from the previous year and 68.9% of pre-Covid-19 levels.

December’s major holidays promise a breakthrough for Vietnam's tourism, potentially meeting the new target. Of the 11.2 million international visitors in the first 11 months, over 9.8 million arrived by air, accounting for 87.3% of total international arrivals; over 1.3 million by land, accounting for 11.9%; and 87.9 thousand by sea, accounting for 0.8%. The top 10 international markets for Vietnam in 2023 also saw changes compared to the pre-Covid-19 era.

In 2019, China was Vietnam's largest international tourist market, followed by South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, with Russia, the UK, and France also among the top sources of tourists. However, in 2023, the top 10 international markets include the Republic of Korea, China, Taiwan (China), the USA, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Australia, and India. The economic and political instability in Europe, following the Russia-Ukraine conflict, has significantly impacted the travel habits of tourists from this region.

What challenges and obstacles does the Vietnamese tourism industry face beside these achievements?

Despite positive signs, the Vietnamese tourism industry faces several challenges.

Internationally, the Russian and European markets show no signs of recovery or enthusiasm to return to pre-pandemic levels.

China, a crucial market for Vietnam, remains unpredictable due to unstable border policy execution and macro-policies encouraging outbound tourism.

The Republic of Korea, currently leading Vietnam's inbound tourist market, presents issues regarding direct and social income, given their outbound tourism approach. Other international markets are unstable.

The domestic market also faces challenges due to decreased business activity, personal income, and mild inflation, leading to cautious tourism spending. People tend to save money rather than spend significantly on tourism.

The tourism business community, especially travel operators (TO/TA), is fragmented and faces competition from online travel agencies (OTAs). They struggle with proactive customer engagement and face challenges from airlines' pricing policies and a lack of coordination with destinations and service providers at these locations. TO/TAs lack strong alliances and effective support from policies and industry collaboration.

Vietnam needs to focus on sustainable tourism and unique experiences: expert
Tourists at Ba Na Hills. (Photo: Dang Huong)

In order to become a 'quality tourism destination' offering unique and diverse experiences in sustainable tourism development, what strategies does Vietnam need to promote?

The quality of tourist destinations in Vietnam is positively evolving, influenced by technological advancements, social media, and environmental consciousness.

Users, through online reviews and shared experiences, have become crucial in ensuring and improving service quality. There's a growing demand for sustainable, local-centric tourism experiences, which destinations need to prioritize to achieve high-quality tourism standards.

Globally, cities like Paris and Tokyo focus on enhancing tourist experiences by improving public transportation, reducing pollution, and encouraging engagement with local communities.

Iceland and New Zealand attract tourists with their unique natural beauty and commitment to environmental protection. They focus on sustainable tourism by limiting visitor numbers, implementing strict environmental regulations, and creating local cultural experiences.

In Vietnam, the quality of tourist destinations is improving through efforts to enhance services, transportation, and other infrastructure. The country also focuses on sustainable tourism, encouraging tourists to engage in unique cultural experiences and support local communities. Destinations like Hoi An and Sapa have become exemplary models of combining tourism development with cultural heritage preservation, considering destination capacity, and efforts to reduce the burden on local resources. Proactively reducing pressure on natural and social environments aligns with sustainable development goals.

Thank you very much!

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