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Worst may be over for tourism sector   2009-08-04 - Thanh Nien, TBKTSG

Worst may be over for tourism sector
A foreign visitor inquires about tourism services at Ho Chi Minh City-based Ben Thanh Tourist  
The crisis may have bottomed out for the tourism sector as tour operators expect foreign arrivals to increase at the end of this year.


The number of people visiting Vietnam had fallen for seven straight months this year as a result of the global economic crisis and the influenza A (H1N1) scare.

But industry insiders said they anticipate better times in the remaining months.

Doan Thi Thanh Tra, marketing manager of Saigontourist, said foreign arrivals via her company in the upcoming winter season, from October through March next year, would recover and reach the same level as last year.

Director Vo Anh Tai said more than 25 percent of Saigontourist’s foreign clients in the first half of this year came on cruise ships. Arrivals by cruise ships are on the rise this year, he said.

Hoang Thi Phong Thu, chairwoman of Lanta-An Travel, a travel agency focusing on Russian tourists, said arrivals would rise slightly at the end of this year.

“Right now we are still hesitant about booking many hotel rooms, but the number of Russian tourists is likely to go up because Russia has not been hit badly by the global economic downturn,” Thu said.

Nguyen Minh Quyen, deputy director of Ben Thanh Tourist, said the number of foreign visitors booking winter tours only dropped 10 percent compared to last year.

The pace of decline has eased significantly, Quyen said, noting that the number of foreign tourists last month fell by around 40 percent year-on-year.

Although the total number of foreign tourists this year is expected to fall around 15 percent, the company will still make profits thanks to growing domestic demand for travel.

“We have never had to inform our foreign partners of prices and promotion programs as frequently as we do now. Now every single customer counts,” said Quyen.

Many other tour operators also said they have tried their best to bring back more foreign tourists amid the downturn.

Le Vinh Loc, managing director of Lac Hong Voyages Company, said he and his associates have visited their partners overseas regularly to promote their products.

“It costs a lot, but we have to go to attract visitors. We can’t just stay here and wait for tourists to come and visit us.”

Intensive promotion has helped keep the number of tourists stable this year, Loc said, without providing specific figures.

Nguyen Xuan Anh, senior consultant at Da Nang-based Tan Hong Travel Company, said travel agencies should not think about cutting back on promotion even when arrival numbers remain low.

“Businesses in the sector need to promote their products at all costs or they would lose all the customers later this year and even next year to Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia,” Anh warned.

But travel companies complained there has not been a concerted effort to promote tourism in Vietnam.

Phan Dinh Hue, director of Viet Circle Travel and Service Company, said the large scale Impressive Vietnam promotion campaign, launched in January and ending in September, has been less effective than expected due to a lack of cooperation among service providers in the industry.

Anh said prices under the campaign were still high and a visa fee exemption scheme has not worked because of complicated procedures.

Foreign arrivals to Vietnam fell 18.7 percent year-on-year to 2.17 million in the first seven months this year. The number of visitors from key markets, including China, South Korea and Japan, dropped by as much as 37 percent, figures from the General Statistics Office show.

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