In the first four months of the year, international visitors to Vietnam exceeded the whole year of 2022.
That is a question that not only people but many people doing business in the service and tourism industries can't help but wonder about. According to data from management agencies, the number of international visitors to Vietnam is growing very strongly, but in reality, the "hottest" destinations are still absent. Many hotels and restaurants have not escaped the brink of bankruptcy, and airlines are struggling to bear losses.
Where are the more than 11 million tourists?
By the end of November 2023, Vietnam's tourism industry was delighted with more than 1.23 million international visitors, "setting a peak" in welcoming foreign visitors since the beginning of 2023. In 11 months, the total number of international visitors to Vietnam reached over 11.2 million visitors, exceeding 3 million visitors compared to the target set at the beginning of the year and almost reaching the target of 12 - 13 million visitors that the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism recently set expectations. Korea remains the largest sending market in the past 11 months, with 3.2 million arrivals (accounting for 28.5%). China ranked second, reaching 1.5 million visits. Next is the Taiwan market (3rd) with 758,000 visitors, America (4th) with 658,000 visitors, and Japan (5th) bringing 527,000 visitors to Vietnam.
Data from the National Tourism Administration surprised Mr. Hoang Anh (tour guide in Hanoi) because although the number of visitors to Hanoi has recovered quite a lot compared to the period just after the COVID-19 epidemic, looking at it, in general, is still very little. "Last month, I led a group of European tourists on a self-sufficient trip, only booking a few services and looking to hire a local tour guide wherever they went. They stayed in Hanoi for 2 days and 1 night. Then we'll go to Sa Pa. That night, I took the whole group to Ta Hien. It was already past 10:30 p.m., and the whole row of shops were still deserted. My German friend turned to ask me: 'Why did I read the reviews and say this place is crowded? Really, or do Vietnamese people go out later?'. I can't explain it because around this time last year, when I brought guests here, it was already crowded at 9:00 p.m., with live music bustling. This year is strange! More than 90% of Western tourists coming to Hanoi will go to Ta Hien, so if Ta Hien is absent, we won't know where the customers are," Mr. Hoang Anh said.
Mr. Thai Doan Hong, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Trade Union Tourism Joint Stock Company, was also surprised by the skyrocketing growth rate of international visitors. Just recently, Mr. Hong continuously received bad news when many foreign delegations cancelled their reservations at Rang Dong Hotel (belonging to Trade Union Company) in the center of District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Due to the difficult economic situation, foreign tourists also reduce spending and "cancel" travel deals. Compared to October - December last year and the years before the epidemic, the number of foreign guests booking rooms at Rang Dong this year decreased by 30 - 40%.
Mr. Thai Doan Hong's travel friends from Phu Quoc, Da Nang, Nha Trang, and Hanoi also reported that the situation was not much better, "all stagnant". If last year, the number of domestic tourists exploded and partly filled the gap of international visitors, this year, the economy is difficult, people only focus on worrying about food, clothing and money, so the demand for traveling also declines. In addition, air ticket prices have increased sharply, affecting many families' vacation or corporate teambuilding plans. Some units planned teambuilding programs in Hanoi and Phu Quoc but had to cancel them because the cost was too high. Airfare accounted for 50 - 60% of the total tour price. If you move to nearby places like Da Lat, Phan Thiet, and Vung Tau, most guests have traveled a lot and are not excited, so they decide to save more money until next year to implement the plan.
"Just like that, hotels and restaurants are severely damaged. Our revenue also continues to decrease by 10-15% compared to last year. I just returned from Con Dao at the end of the year and on the weekend, but it's still very empty. Normally, I can't even buy a plane ticket because there's no more space. Last week, I went to Phu Quoc. I looked at the huge, majestic, modern airport, but only one Vietjet plane was parked there. Looking at it makes me feel sad. Previously, during peak times, Phu Quoc welcomed up to 130 - 150 flights a day. Now, sometimes there are only 1 or 2 international flights daily. The "hottest" destinations that Now that there are no customers, I don't know where the number of visitors increased so strongly?" Mr. Thai Doan Hong asked.
Is it a statistical error, or because the target is too low?
Tourism industry statistics have raised many questions before. A tourism expert said that many years ago, those working in tourism development research pointed out that the quality of industry reports was low, and data were unreliable. We keep gathering all the visitors from abroad to Vietnam and "embracing" the tourism industry, while among those more than 11 million visitors, how many come for tourism purposes, how many come to visit relatives? how many people come to work for only 1-2 days and then leave, how many diplomatic guests, official guests..., all are not classified or specified. According to data from the Ministry of Public Security, in terms of entry purposes, among foreigners entering Vietnam in the 10 months of 2023, 85% of entries are for tourism purposes, and 15% are for other purposes, such as investment, work, visit relatives, study abroad... However, this number is difficult to be accurate because the statistical method still has many shortcomings.
Not to mention, data from localities reported to the Tourism Department is also messy. There are many situations in which 200 people from Australia came to Hanoi. Hanoi "recorded" in its book that the same group of tourists flew to Ho Chi Minh City and was added by Ho Chi Minh City to the list of foreign visitors to the city. Finally, both lists are reported and accumulated to the Department and the Ministry, creating a delegation of 200 people that can be multiplied to 400, even 600 - 800 people if they go to many places and each province carries out similar statistical work. That's why it leads to a "half laughing, half crying" situation like in 2022 when the whole country set a goal of welcoming 5 million international visitors by the end of the year but only welcomed about 3 million visitors by the end of November, yet Ho Chi Minh City has welcomed up to 5 million international visitors.
"The data are so haphazard, so you can't be happy to see that it's exceeded the plan. That's not even taking into account the decreasing spending level of tourists. The growth rate of visitors must be proportional to the revenue growth of the company, hotels, restaurants, and accompanying service systems. Only then can tourism be considered to have recovered. ", this expert emphasized.
From another perspective, Mr. Vu The Binh, Chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, acknowledged that the tourism industry reached the finish line early, exceeding the target of welcoming international visitors from the 9th month, but actual observations show that the number of foreign visitors is still little because our plans are set very low. Even if it exceeds, it must exceed twice as much to be commensurate with other countries in the region and create the same vitality as before the epidemic. At the same time, the growth rate of domestic tourists has decreased, so services in the tourism ecosystem still need to improve.
Special periods require special policies.
Why have we yet to attract many international tourists? Regarding this question, Mr. Vu The Binh emphasized that Vietnam's tourism promotion work still needs to be faster and more effective. According to him, implementing overseas promotions to attract international visitors to Vietnam needs to be improved. Many of the world's leading international fairs, such as WTM London (UK) and JATA Tokyo (Japan), need to be addressed, or participation was moderate. Only localities participated. This makes the image of Vietnamese tourism pale compared to international ones.
Meanwhile, provinces and cities should focus more on organizing superficial activities in the country, such as festivals and political, cultural, and economic events associated with tourism. It is associated with tourism but only achieves its goals because the festival is born from the community's national customs and spiritual life. Not to mention, tourists must pay more attention to the grand opening ceremonies and cultural performances by thousands of amateur actors. They only care about traditional cultural identity. It will be more effective if those funds are transferred to international tourism promotion activities. Then the market's human resources must be improved, affecting service quality. The tourism industry only attracts about 60% of workers, and many highly skilled workers have moved to other industries. Many tourism businesses, especially accommodation establishments, must use untrained workers to serve guests, and investment in research and development of new tourism products still needs to be made.
"The key issue is still resources. Our businesses are mainly small and medium-sized enterprises. Their resources are too weak, and they need to access preferential capital from the state to be able to cooperate with the authorities." Restructuring the international market, promoting tourism promotion. The Government needs to innovate the activities of the Tourism Development Support Fund to promote the above activities", proposed the Chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association.
Agreeing, Mr. Thai Doan Hong also said that the main reason leading to the slow recovery of the international tourist market is the difficult economic situation. Tourism will be the first and hardest hit industry when consumers tighten spending. Vietnam's major source markets such as China and Russia, face difficulties, so people are not encouraged to travel abroad. We hope to have an alternative market, but it is not easy. In that context, countries and territories like Thailand and Taiwan have implemented correct and successful stimulus programs. The government will waive the budget and even refund cash to tourists who need to come to spend and shop. For example, in Taiwan, if a group of guests comes to this territory and stays for 4 nights, the hotel will discount TWD 200 for each guest each night. At the end of the trip, each passenger receives a refund of TWD 800. This money comes from the government's stimulus support, not from the hotel.
"Promotion and demand stimulation programs in Vietnam are mainly the state lobbying businesses to reduce prices, but businesses are now exhausted and at a loss, so where can they reduce it further? Everyone understands that when air tickets are expensive, travel is expensive. We are suffering but cannot force offshore airlines to lower prices while their input costs skyrocket. The more they fly, the more they lose money. In special periods like these, special regulatory policies are needed. The government can be balanced by reducing taxes and fees for the tourism industry, especially the aviation industry, to help them not have to increase prices and get appropriate, stable prices. From there, there is room to do more promotional programs, stimulating demand, promoting, attracting international visitors to Vietnam," Mr. Thai Doan Hong commented.