Vietnam Tourism: A Country Profile

Blogs - Vietnam: May 23, 2014

For most, Vietnam is an exotic, politically stable, economical country, a view which steadily drives foreign travel interest. Advantageously located between the world’s three largest continents and ripe with year-round tropical weather and lengthy white-sand beach coastlines accented by warm waters, the country holds a curiously strong magnetism during cold winter months. For genuine travellers, however, Vietnam’s “true charm” is found daily. From the genuine smiles of friendly Vietnamese faces, the tastes found in fresh local cuisine, the beauty of the classic Ao Dai, all the way down to the unmistakable dichotomy between old and new. Vietnam is an intensely unique treasure.

As a whole, however, tourism is relatively new to Vietnam. It began with the Doi Moi in the mid - 1980s. During the 1960s and 1970s in the south (the American War period), Vung Tau was the primary escape destination in terms of revitalising soldiers. Further back, at the helm of 130 years of French Colonialism, Dalat and Vung Tau, then called “Cap Saint Jacques”, were hidden gems for any traveller looking to escape in southern Vietnam

In the early 1990s, reminiscent of once named Cochinchina, the Vietnamese began to pay tribute to a country which was once theirs. This burst of “exotic longing” soon extended to the French and American communities. Simultaneously, 250,000 French and 1,200,000 Americans, “Viet Kieu”, who had fled the country during the late 1970s and early 1980s, began to return “home”.

Subsequently, the late 1990s saw the opening of Vietnam’s first internationally managed resort in the then unknown beach strip Phan Thiet. Further north, in Nha Trang, linked to Ho Chi Minh City by train, high-rise properties overlooking one of the country’s prime bays exploded onshore. Still further north, it did not take long for Hoi An, the ancient port city and uniquely preserved World Heritage site, to become frequented by the growing number of foreign travellers. Hanoi, the country’s capital, as well as Halong Bay, the other monumental World Heritage site, also attracted interest.

Since 2000, tourism in Vietnam has swiftly grown nationwide from northern most Sapa down to the most southern and secluded island of Con Dao. Development throughout varied as growth was especially tied to accessibility, attraction, and accommodation. New markets including Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong began their own inbound market infiltration.

As of 2007, with support from foreign investment programs and the accession of the World Trade Organisation, infrastructure developments climbed starting with renovated or brand new airports in Dalat, HCMC, Nha Trang, Danang and Can Tho. Additionally, “highways” were built to lead us directly into Halong Bay or Baria Vung Tau. Despite these efforts, Vietnam’s tourism infrastructure is still rather insufficiently developed to cope with the growth in demand. Steep challenges lie ahead.

Western leisure tourism throughout Vietnam steadily continues with tour operators offering 7- to 15-day journeys across the country, the most popular route being from Saigon to Hanoi. Pre-organised cross-country group tours are also favoured considering their stunning all-inclusive packages of less than USD800. Not only westerners are lured in by Vietnam’s magic; China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Cambodian markets are also fuelling the country’s tourism market. “Backpackers” are unceasingly travelling on a shoestring, the main market of which includes Australians. Another rising giant, the Russian market delivers travellers on the beach in hordes for extended holidays. Nevertheless, repeated visit is extremely low, under 10 percent.

The future of Vietnam’s tourism is linked to the rise in demand from China, already the leading incoming market. Experts suggest that by 2020 over 20 million visitors may visit Vietnam. A frightening statistic as the current number is below 7 million. It is equally important to note the neglected infrastructures, weak governmental will, and feeble tourism education, all of which require strong planning and adequate funds for renovation.

The above mentioned facts and radical changes in terms of volume, market, budget, travel format, and interest, lead us to believe that quality will unlikely be a main focus for Vietnam’s travel industry in the years to come. The private sector will most likely adapt to market demand, ultimately changing the face of Vietnam’s tourism entirely.