Editor’s note: Unconvinced by data reported by the local tourism departments, Nguyen Van My, member of executive board of Vietnam Travel Association cast a doubt on the accuracy of the number of visitors, which is high but put up low revenue and expenditure per capita.
My expressed his opinion that Vietnamese tourism reports should be more ‘down to earth’ in this piece sent to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
In 2017, Vietnam welcomed 12.9 million international tourists and over 73 million domestic visitors.
The Southeast Asian country ranked sixth in the list of world’s fastest growing tourist destinations by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and topped Asia in the same category.
According to the municipal tourism department, 6.4 million foreigners and 24.9 million domestic holidaymakers visited Ho Chi Minh City in 2017, making nearly VND116,000 billion (US$4.98 billion) of revenue for the industry.
The spending per visitor was VND3,706,000 ($159.36), the highest in the country.
Hanoi’s tourist revenue ranked second with VND70,958 billion ($3.05 billion) and each visitor spent VND2,978,000 ($128.05) while staying in the Vietnamese capital.
The touristy south-central province of Khanh Hoa brought in a revenue of VND17,300 billion ($743.9 million) and expenditure per guest is VND3,145,000 ($135.24), higher than Hanoi.
The lowest spending is in the northern province of Thai Nguyen, which attracted more than 2.2 million vacationers last year. Each visitor to Thai Nguyen spent only VND139,000 ($5.98).
And about one third of the Vietnamese provinces reported a total tourism revenue of under VND1 trillion ($43 million) in 2017.
According to the General Statistics Office of Vietnam (GSO), the country's tourism revenue in 2017 was a whopping VND515 trillion ($22.15 billion), which I found unreasonable when comparing to the provinces’ data.
I tried to calculate the tourist revenue of 63 provinces and cities across Vietnam, according to data reported by the local tourism departments, but in no way could get the VND515 trillion answer.
How the numbers were calculated
In addition, I also realized the fact that provinces attracting a large number of tourists, but contrariwise gaining low per capita income (PCI), are localities with many festivals.
Vietnam organizes more than 8,000 large and small festivals every year.
These festivals attract hundreds of thousands, even millions of visitors, but offering many free activities. Visitors to these festive destinations just ‘come and go,’ thus resulting in low tourism revenue.
On the other hand, many festivals are often associated with national holidays or local events, whose main purpose is to serve the locals.
The provinces also included the number of local people attending these festivities in the records of tourists.
Moreover, in several provinces where the festivals are held, hotel rooms and relevant services are often not enough to serve tourists, leaving visitors uninterested in staying.
Likewise, spiritual visitors usually flooded temples and mountains, but their trips are just like pilgrimages, where food is even carried alongside.
The provinces’ tourism is merely attracting visitors for reporting purposes, not resulting in significant revenue.
While tourists should and must be counted based on the accommodation occupation rate, Vietnam’s tourist administrators tend to pay that tribute to the number of visitors to destinations, the number of participants in events.
This practice may lead to reported data much larger than actual numbers.
Therefore, I suggest that reports on visitor numbers, tourism revenue be more detailed and scientific.
There should be an independent monitoring body to evaluate the effectiveness of tourism services development based on days of stay, revenue and expenditure per visitor.
Only on that basis, annual growth can be exactly calculated for planning suitable strategies and methods for sustainable tourism development.