Ho Chi Minh City is yet to tap the full potential of the night time economy despite evidence from other countries that it encourages higher spending by tourists, experts said.
The city has a relatively more bustling night life compared to other cities and provinces in Vietnam, with high demand for night time activities from both locals and tourists.
Matt Ryan, co-founder of the Indika Saigon bar in District 1, told Vietnam News that the city has a great deal of night life, with many places for customers to spend time in.
“Since the COVID-19 lockdowns, at first we were seeing earlier dining patterns and people heading home earlier. These days it seems like things are back to where they were pre-COVID-19 with people staying well past 10pm. We just had one of our busiest months in a long time.”
However, Nguyen Van My, Chairman of Lua Viet Tourism Co Ltd, said that the city does not have a wide variety of night time activities. Most tourists just eat and drink beer at night, because their options are limited, unlike in other places where the night time economy thrives.
“For example, Taiwan has hundreds of night markets, and tourists visit different night markets every night since they are all unique. While HCM City is a popular tourist attraction, there is no ‘proper night market’ here, only a few food markets.”
Vendors at night markets only function until 11:00pm, even though they are allowed to remain open until 6am the next day.
These markets currently serve mostly domestic customers and only a minimal number of foreign tourists.
Nguyen Thi Lan, owner of a stall in District 4’s Xom Chieu Food Market, told The Doanh Nhan Saigon Newspaper that before COVID-19, her stall served dozen of foreign customers every night, but there were very few foreigners to be seen now.
Once popular night-time places like the underground Central Market in District 1 were also seeing fewer customers after the pandemic, with many kiosks standing abandoned.
Truong Hoang Phuong, a member of the product research board under the HCM City Tourism Association, said that HCM City needs to create more unique night-time activities to encourage spending, including leisure facilities where tourists can hang out all night.
Several economists have noted that night time activities usually account for a significant proportion of tourism spending, so they should be encouraged by setting up special zones to foster the night economy with proper investment and long term plans.
They have also called for more relaxed policies to encourage growth of the night time economy.
Tran Quang Thang, Rector of the HCM City Institute of Economic and Management, said that night markets can be a valuable opportunity to promote high quality Vietnamese goods. They have to be clean, eye-catching and reasonably priced, he said.
“Furthermore, local authorities should support night-time vendors with favourable policies and help them overcome problems.”
Nguyen Ngoc An, Deputy General Director of Fiditour – Vietluxtour Tourism Company, said night markets were crucial for enticing tourists to stay longer and spend more. There is a lot of demand for night tourism, he added.
“Many other countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore have been developing great night tourism products that many Vietnamese tourists enjoy. We can learn from them and develop our own regional night time economy models.”
At a March conference on HCM City’s post-COVID economic recovery, Nguyen Thi Thanh Thao, head of the tourism resource planning and development sub-department, said improving its night time economy was among the city’s key strategies to develop tourism.
“The Department of Tourism has worked with districts to plan night time economy activity projects, such as District 11 having a night food market and its Dam Sen Park organising more night time leisure activities along the Tan Hoa Canal.”
Other cities and provinces were also struggling with making optimum use of the potentially lucrative night time economy, with many services closing after 10:00pm, industry insiders have noted.
For example, Can Tho city lacks night time activities, and many tourists only spend a day there before going somewhere else for the evening, according to its Department of Culture, Sport and Tourism.
The central province of Quang Nam, famous for its stunning cave systems, is yet to make use of night-time tourism potential, with local regulations on opening times and social order not facilitating businesses like bars and night markets.