Editor’s note: Why has Vietnam performed poorly in terms of tourist arrivals during the past months? Many readers have sent their answers to Tuoi Tre News, giving explanations about the country suffering a record fall in the number of foreign tourist visits in March.
Foreigners paid 543,300 tourist visits to Vietnam last month, down 23.4 percent compared to the same period last year, the General Statistics Office said in a quarterly report, adding the country has reported slumping tourist arrival numbers for ten months in a row, and the March figure was the highest-ever recorded.
While a former Vietnamese tourism chief has put the blame on the rigmarole of getting a Vietnamese visa, many readers have told Tuoi Tre News it is more than just the visa issue.
They cited these factors as contributing to the declining number of visitors to Vietnam.
‘We feel unsafe’
Visa complications might be an issue for the decline of tourism, but to me the main problems are as follows.
First, tourists feel Vietnam is not safe.
I once got my passport stolen by a thief on a motorbike along Cong Quynh off Bui Vien [in Ho Chi Minh City], while some friends of mine had their bags snatched on Pham Ngu Lao, and another who lost $5,000 after a distraction technique, also somewhere near Bui Vien.
How can tourists feel safe to come back to Vietnam?
Next is the constant extortion of money. Tourists are charged premium prices everywhere. As soon as vendors know that the buyer is a foreigner, they raise the price.
Visa is just a minor issue
The visa application process is a minor irritation.
The major reasons for declining numbers [of tourist arrivals] are poor infrastructure, unfriendly and unwelcoming locals, rip-off galore, dual pricing for foreigners, poor quality three-star hotels, death-trap roads, bikes on the walkways, just to name a few.
Vietnam has no idea how to ensure tourists will return, it’s only interested in [the] quantity [of tourists], not quality.
Vietnam needs a comprehensive plan
In his article, Mr. Nam [was] correct in stating that the visa procedure in Vietnam is completely outdated and counterproductive (it's even worse if you live here with the whole bureaucratic procedure of work permits, residency permits, driving licenses, you name it).
But the cost of a visa is just part of the problem.
The basic rules of marketing are the '4 P's': Product, Place, Price and Promotion. We cannot change our long term tourism strategy by just lowering the price. It would just make things cheaper, that's it.
We need a comprehensive plan.
Lowering the price of hotels and restaurants is not going to make Mui Ne and Nha Trang cleaner.
Tourists to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia or the Philippines are welcomed by hotel staff fluent in English. [In Vietnam], tourists will have a problem if they don't stay in a five-star hotel.
So we have to change the way people are trained. Basically, there is no decent training: where is the top Vietnamese hotel school? Thailand has a few, and Malaysia and Singapore do, too.
We are going nowhere if we are not willing to make a strategic plan and just continue to spend our energy on details. Sit down together with a few sensible and intelligent people who have a more-than-5-day plan and confirm what is wrong.
Eight years ago I already read that 90 percent of first-time Vietnam tourists did not come back. The problem was already apparent, but as tourism arrivals were still going up, nobody cared.
And now 'suddenly' we seem to have a problem. If you want to tackle the problem, do it in a comprehensive way.
Ad hoc actions are not going to get us anywhere. And as long as nobody cares, the tourist arrival numbers will continue to fall.
Red tape and lack of information
The main problem is red tape and the lack of information about Vietnam.
Vietnam should cut red tape, and make it known to more tourists worldwide.
One of my friends and co-workers in Germany wanted to go to Thailand first. And as a resident in Vietnam I explained to her the beauties of the country which is my home now.
[They are] the narrow streets of Hanoi with all the wonderful artistic experiences and the good food; the ancient metropolis of Hue where the spirit and splendor of the Kings of Vietnam still can be experienced in their gorgeous palaces and where the Perfume River sings songs at night and candles transport the good wishes on its waves.
[The beauties also include] the old town of Hoi An - one of the monuments of ancient culture and trading; Nha Trang with its multicultural experience of people enjoying the seas and the great beach together; and finally, the exiting experience of Ho Chi Minh City which combines Asian and overseas culture and thrives with energy.
[Convinced,] my friend [eventually] chose Vietnam and was happy [with the choice], even though she was first embarrassed by the visa procedure.
However, in the end she told me she had one of her best holidays in a lifetime, having visited all the existing places I recommended to her.
Tuoi Tre News greatly values and appreciates any contribution to keep this series about Vietnamese tourism going. We are still waiting for your stories.
Do not hesitate to share your stories with us in the comment box below or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.