Last month I wrote about the increasing growth of South Korean inbound tourists in the 2nd half of 2014. Since that time, VNAT released two months of inbound statistics and the trend has not only continued, but accelerated. The rate of growth for January and February (versus same period in 2014) was 41% and 68% respectively. Even more interesting, February was the first time on record the Chinese were passed for the top spot in inbound arrivals.
The article concluded with the simple advice, “If you are in the tourism business in Vietnam you need a South Korean strategy.”
A day or two after writing my first article on South Korean tourism, I found myself lamenting the fact that the Russian Ruble shed half its value the same week my team and I opened our beach bar and restaurant. Right then I made the decision to follow my own recommendation and come up with a South Korean strategy. The results have been remarkable.
Granted, most hospitality businesses are different and have their own unique challenges, but I figured it may help to share my experience over the last month nonetheless. As a business owner on the South Central Vietnam coast, a lot of our business plan was focused on the Russian market. This changed a month ago. We are now probably the world’s first Korean kitesurfing reggae bar and restaurant.
Easy, quick adjustments were made. Facebook and social media posts became translated into Korean. While English is a required subject in South Korean schools, it isn’t often used in society and is often forgotten in the years after graduation. Additionally, just the fact that a business is trying to communicate in Korean signals a welcoming attitude that could differentiate you immediately.
Next, we took a look at our menu options to see if they matched the Korean palate. It did not. No wholesale changes were made, but our daily specials now all focus on the Korean market. For example, our weekly burrito special is now a kimchi fried rice and chicken burrito. Octopus replaced squid. Korean spices and condiments are now added to other dishes.
After the adjustment we were ready for Korean customers. The search began by looking for the local Korean operators bringing South Koreans to travel to Vietnam, and then simply introducing our place. Facebook is an easy way to keep your demographic informed. Being a relatively new operation, we were given the flexibility to provide custom service to the groups who started coming in.
Finally, we changed our policy from having our employees study Russian to practicing Korean. Just a few simple words like “thank you,” “hello” and “goodbye” spoken in Korean creates a great impression.
More significant changes will follow. A Korean/English/Vietnamese menu is in the works. The new menu will include a few adjustments to the dishes and the addition of soju to the drink list.
Finding staff that speaks Korean is also on the agenda. This should not be as hard as it sounds as many people in Vietnam have worked for Korean companies or perceive studying Korean as an opportunity to find a good job. With 4,000 established South Korean companies in Vietnam, Korea is the country’s largest foreign investor. Korean pop culture influence on the younger generation may also increase the number of Vietnamese youth who study the language.
Now that South Koreans are aware of our business, the next step is to influence more of them to choose our location when planning their next trip. We already started the process of hiring a social media manager in South Korea to promote us. South Koreans use the internet more than any other nationality in the world, so this is a critical step to growing our business in the long-term.
Obviously the steps outlined above will not work for every business, but those waiting for the Russians and the Chinese to return need to reconsider their business plan. We did and are very pleased with the results.