Tourists sunbathe at Cua Dai Beach in the central town of Hoi An. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong
The growth in Thai arrivals surpassed that of Vietnam’s two biggest feeder markets, China and South Korea.
The first four months of this year saw 174,777 Thai nationals visit Vietnam, a massive 46.5 percent increase year-on-year, followed by Indonesia (29.1 percent), Taiwan (25 percent), the Philippines (24.4 percent), South Korea (23.2 percent) and Malaysia (15.7 percent).
The recent launch of direct flights connecting Vietnam’s top tourist destinations like Da Nang, Nha Trang and Da Lat with Thailand’s tourism hubs has pushed this growth, market observers say.
Earlier this year, Bangkok Airways opened a direct route from the Thai capital Bangkok to Cam Ranh, an hour south of its much busier sister Nha Trang Town in the central province of Khanh Hoa.
Foreign arrivals in Vietnam in the January-April period is estimated at 5.9 million, up 7.6 percent year-on-year, putting the country on track to meet its annual target of welcoming 18 million foreigners this year, according to the General Statistics Office.
Though the number of Chinese tourist arrivals reported a 3.2 percent year-on-year fall, China still topped the list of foreign arrivals in the country at 1.7 million, followed by South Koreans with 1.4 million.
Most visitors arrived by air, accounting for nearly 80 percent of the total.
Vietnam’s tourism revenue in the first four months of the year is estimated at VND227.8 trillion ($9.77 billion), an 8.9 percent increase year-on-year.
The country is experiencing a tourism boom, with a record 15.5 million foreign visitors arriving in 2018, a rise of 20 percent against the previous year.
A relaxation in visa policies has helped Vietnam attract more visitors. The country first allowed foreign tourists to apply for a visa online in February 2017, starting with 40 countries including China, South Korea and the U.S.
It recently added 35 more countries, including emerging tourism markets in Europe, to the list of those whose nationals can visit the country with e-visas, raising the total list of beneficiaries to 80.
According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), a foreign visitor spends $900 on average on a trip to Vietnam, well below neighboring countries like Singapore ($1,105), Indonesia ($1,109) and Thailand ($1,565).
Based on the average annual growth rate of foreign arrivals, Vietnam is likely to lead the Asia-Pacific region in attracting international visitors from 2019-2023, according to the latest Asia Pacific Visitor Forecasts report released by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA).