The rise of Korean travellers in Vietnam

practicalities - Vietnam: Feb. 26, 2019

Travel Between Vietnam and South Korea is Now More Convenient and Cost-Effective

Koreans Flock to Vietnam’s Beaches During Winter Months

Korean Tourists Expect Strong Service and Wish for Better Traffic Conditions

The tourism market for Korean travellers to Vietnam has expanded at a rapid rate over the past three years. South Koreans are closely following Chinese tourists as the most significant tourist group in Vietnam and together make up over half of all foreign visitors. However, Korea is projected to soon surpass China with a growth rate of 55.3 percent per year, while the Chinese growth rate keeps diminishing.

According to the latest statistical data published by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), over the past 10 months of 2018, there have been 2,867,380 Korean inbound visitors, a substantial increase in comparison to the around 1,000,000 back in 2015.

In October of this year alone, 303,417 South Korean tourists entered Vietnam, closely following Chinese tourists at 371,361, although Chinese tourists are on the decline mostly due to political disputes between the countries.The recent influx of Korean tourists could be a reflection of the increasingly prosperous relations between the two nations, which is significantly notable within the new generation.

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Although English still holds the top spot as the most commonly learned second language, the number of young Vietnamese learning Korean has considerably risen in popularity, partly due to their interest in Korean celebrity culture such as K-pop and Korean dramas.

The improved ties have impacted not only cultural relations but also political ones. Amended diplomatic trade agreements are set to make Vietnam and South Korea US$100 billion in revenue, and South Korea will be Vietnam’s second-largest export market by 2020.

Convenient and Cost-Effective Travel Between Vietnam and South Korea

South Korea, in turn, has also become a top market for Vietnamese travellers. Consequently, more and more air routes are being introduced and visa restrictions have been loosened allowing the use of e-visas and a 15-day visa exemption.

There are currently eight air carriers that operate between the countries with plans to increase their frequency and range of destinations—including seven direct flights per week between Da Nang and Daegu, the fourth-largest city in South Korea by population, being introduced on 22 December 2018. The flight itself is also relatively short at just over four hours and it can cost as little as VND4.5 million (US$190) for a return ticket.

But this is comparable to other neighbouring Southeast Asian countries. Destinations such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines have been long-standing popular honeymoon destinations for Koreans but now the luxury beach resorts of Da Nang are giving them a run for their money.

Swapping the Cold Korean Winter for Vietnam’s Beaches

Da Nang is the top-visited destination for South Korean travellers in Vietnam, followed respectively by Hanoi and Saigon. The central region welcomed 1.3 million South Korean tourists last year escaping the cold Korean winter for a warmer climate.

Interest in Da Nang was intensified when a dominant South Korean tour operator, Ticket Monster Inc., cited Da Nang as one of the world’s top 10 destinations favoured by South Korean families and couples. Da Nang city has many tourist attractions including the 67-metre-tall Lady Buddha statue and the recently built “Golden Bridge” that caused a media storm online and subsequently boosted tourism in the area. Da Nang is also revered for its miles and miles of stunning coastlines and well-kept beaches.

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South Korean tourists like to visit multiple locations during a short stay, so the accessibility between Da Nang and the surrounding attractions is inviting. The city is only a stone’s throw away from the UNESCO World Heritage ancient town of Hoi An.

Nha Trang is also seeing its fair share of Korean tourists that are mainly middle class 25 to 45 year olds, according to Remi Faubel, General Manager of Novotel Nha Trang. Faubel explained that like Da Nang, the increase in tourism in Nha Trang is likely related to the area’s sunny beaches.

"Korean tourists are discreet, well educated, good customers”, Faubel said. “In terms of spending, Koreans are not good. They don't spend money on local products; they don't come for shopping. Koreans mainly come to Vietnam to relax and enjoy the beach, entertainment and bars."

What Level of Service do Korean Tourists Expect?

Speaking to #IAMHCMC, the Marketing and PR Manager at the Lotte Legend hotel, Ms Nguyen Thi Thu Thao, said she had noticed a substantial increase in Korean guests visiting the hotel even during the past month-and-a-half.

She explained that the 5-star Lotte Legend hotel has a mixed international clientele but is also a favourite with Koreans, partially due to its worldwide reputation. She said, “Koreans choose the Lotte legend hotel as it’s a respected brand around the world.”

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The average demographic of Korean tourists who stay at the Saigon riverfront-located hotel is high-class travellers aged between 30 and 50, who expect top-quality service. Nguyen said, “Korean customers do not hesitate to spend their money on luxury as long as there is good-quality service; if there is good service and a good atmosphere they are willing to spend their money.”

How Could the Hospitality Industry Improve to Cater to Korean Tourists?

Implementing new strategies to cash-in on the flourishing Korean market in Vietnam is becoming a top priority for tour guides and hotels. However, some services in Vietnam still need drastic improvements to persuade Korean holidaymakers to spend more and stay for longer.

The director of the Korean Cultural Centre in Vietnam, Mr Keum Gi Hyung, recently met with the VNAT in Hanoi to try and solve any remaining barriers between the nations that could be hindering further tourism success. Hyung said at the meeting that providing top-quality tours, professional tourist-guide training, and increased control of agents would ensure the growth rate would continue. Korea offered support in training management teams and tour guides.

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He also strongly suggested a heightened focus on improving traffic safety. Vietnam is infamous for its chaotic and sometimes dangerous roads, especially in big congested cities such as Saigon and Hanoi. Korean tourists who aren’t used to the disorder can find it unappealing for a holiday destination.

But Hyung’s advice wasn’t solely contrary. He praised Vietnam for its impressive scenery, delicious food, and friendly and hospitable people.

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