For most of the past decade, Vietnam has been experiencing a tourism boom. Pre-covid, international arrivals stood at over 15 million visitors annually (compared to only 4 million a decade ago), alongside roughly 80 million domestic trips.
As Vietnam’s economy is gradually recovering from the impact of the pandemic, the tourism sector is expected to pull its weight, even with a ban on foreign visitors still in place. The tourism promotion campaign "Vietnamese People Travel in Vietnam" that debuted in early May has seen airlines, hotels and tour operators offer attractively-priced products to coax domestic travelers back onto the beaches of Danang and to Dalat’s strawberry farms.
The incentives seem to be working. Pieter van der Hoeven, Minor Hotels' regional general manager for IndoChina, notes that Anantara and Avani hotels in Vietnam have seen a surge in domestic demand, “showing that there is no shortage of travelers who are keen to escape and enjoy good food, beautiful beaches and some time away from home.” Usually catering to the international traveler, the properties are now offering attractive packages for all residents of Vietnam, as well as specific food and beverage promotions and events in each respective hotel location.
For Kendall Nguyen, Managing Director of Luxstay, a Vietnam-based vacation rental platform, the country’s efforts to boost domestic tourism chime with his own (even before the pandemic, 80-90% of Luxstay's clients were Vietnamese). And the way the locals travel is rapidly changing too.
“Vietnamese tourists look for suburban villas for family or friends that can be reached in just a few hours by car, such as Ba Vi, Tam Dao, Soc Son in the north and Vung Tau or Ho Tram in the south. And the booking window is shortening.” Many still avoid flying, so Luxcar car rentals have surged after the company introduced a number of promotions.
Kendall expects domestic tourism demand to increase during the summer vacation. Pieter is banking on the summer holiday season too. “Our hotels and resorts throughout Vietnam have already been seeing a strong demand for domestic business over the last two months, particularly since local restrictions were lifted, domestic flights started taking off again and kids went back to school.”
As for the ‘travel bubbles’ and ‘air bridges’ between the countries with low transmission rates, Pieter says Minor hotels in Vietnam are “prepared for selected regional markets to be the first to recover.” “We have strategies in place per market to capitalize on these travel restrictions being lifted, but until anything is concrete, we will wait and see what transpires in reality.”
Looking at international arrivals, Kendall believes that a 'travel bubble' between Vietnam and Korea is on the cards. “In 2018, there were 15.5 million international visitors to Vietnam, of which Korean visitors accounted for more than 20% (3.5 million).”
Traveling with peace of mind
With tourists slowly returning to the sun-loungers and massage beds, hospitality players are going out of their way to reassure guests of their high health and safety standards.
Luxstay has rolled out an education campaign to remind homeowners of the importance of thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting rental properties between each stay. There are also hand sanitizing products for the guests to use, and they are free. “Lately, people have received a lot of information from the authorities and the media about the importance of good hygiene and how to be safe when going out,” says Kendall. “Travel safety is no different.”
Anantara has implemented a new program to enhance hygiene measures at its properties worldwide, as well as appointing a dedicated ‘Guest Guardian’ responsible for internal audits based on a series of rigid brand guidelines.
“We are operating our properties in line with local government requirements, as well as measures that both Anantara and Avani have implemented across all hotels. We adhere to all social distancing guidelines in our restaurants, bars and swimming pool areas, as per local regulations,” says Pieter. “We have been extremely fortunate in Vietnam that, while international travel is not yet permitted, our strong presence and trusted brand in the domestic market has given us an advantage that guests are reassured in the knowledge of staying in a safe environment.”
A balancing act
As travel and hospitality businesses restructure, there is an opportunity to make tourism work better, from reducing overcrowding to improving customer satisfaction, and companies are looking to implement systemic, lasting changes.
Luxstay used the forced downtime to upgrade its platforms (websites, apps for travelers and hosts) as well as improving customer experience. Kendall’s ambition is to see Vietnam’s homestay market regulated in a similar way to hotels’.
“The reason why the homestay market is not booming here is the lack of regulation. Where hotels have a star rating system, the only way to evaluate a homestay is to experience it firsthand or through word of mouth.” Luxstay aims to change that and is building a system to standardize homestays.
There are reasons to be wary of mass tourism and the risks it poses to the environment. But even in the era of all-inclusive packages and heavy discounts to drum up numbers there is a market for tailored, luxury products. In July, Anantara is launching a new luxury product, The Vietage, a luxury railway carriage linking Da Nang and Quy Nhon. A custom-designed 12-seater carriage will take guests on a journey through the Vietnamese countryside, with amenities on board to include a fully-serviced bar and massage area.
“Future demand for the summer holiday period is looking solid," says Pieter. “The train is generating huge interest and bookings, as well as knock-on accommodation bookings at both Anantara Hoi An and Anantara Quy Nhon Villas.”
Buckle up for a wild ride
After a slow start to the year, Vietnam’s travel industry appears to be on track to capitalize on domestic tourism, with summer bookings looking healthy and public confidence in travel taking less time to rebuild than feared. The fact that Vietnam’s tourism industry is bullish can largely be attributed to the country’s early success in containing the spread of covid-19 and in being able to reassure the population that traveling is safe again. Whether international borders reopen in the next few months or not, Vietnam’s travel sector seems to have found a silver lining even in these difficult times.