As the number of international visitor arrivals has been growing at the rate of over 27% since 2016, the tourism sector is playing an increasingly important role in Vietnam’s economic growth. However, there have been no official statistics, assessment and analyses of the role and impact of the increase in the number of inbound tourists to the Vietnamese economy.
International travelers spent some US$8.3 billion in Vietnam in 2016, according to the World Bank (WB). The revenue for 2017 is estimated to be about US$8.9 billion based on the average growth rate of 8% in 2012-2016. This figure includes the cost of air transport, however. If the airfare is excluded, how much do international visitors spend during their stay in Vietnam, including the expenses of lodging and meals? This question is partly addressed by a survey done in Danang, a famous destination in Vietnam.
Late last year, the tourism department of this central city hired an independent expert to carry out the project “Identify the Contribution of Tourism to the Gross Regional Domestic Product (GRDP) in Danang.” As per the survey, the average expenditure per visitor to Danang in 2017 was VND5.32 million (1), or some US$234.
Figures from the WB show that the Philippines attracted only seven million international tourists but earned about US$6 billion; Indonesia welcomed 14 million visitors and gained US$13 billion; and 35 million travelers chose Thailand as their destination and spent US$52 billion for this country. Thus, the average cost of international tourists in the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand is US$857, US$928 and US$1,486 per visitor, respectively, versus only US$615 in Vietnam.
To have a comprehensive appraisal of the tourism industry, besides the number of visitors, it is necessary to look at the income earned by this sector for the economy. The above data make it obvious that the income in foreign currency that the tourism industry contributes to the country remains very small, compared with the potentials that many experts in the industry have pointed out and with the amount international tourists spend in other ASEAN countries.
It is almost unacceptable if someone argues that the natural landscape of Vietnam is inferior to other countries in the region like Thailand, Indonesia or the Philippines. Many people who have traveled to those countries can prove this is not the case. Then, how come there is such a huge gap in the spending by international tourists in Vietnam and in the other nations as shown above? Is it because there is a difference in the sources of visitors? This may be one of the reasons—a minor one, however, as 40-45% of visitors to Thailand or the Philippines last year are from China and South Korea (2). Such percentage is lower than the rate of 53% in Vietnam, but it seems it is not enough to give an adequate explanation.
According to the author, who is not a specialist in the tourism industry, however, the main reason is probably international visitors do not know what to spend their money on during their stay in Vietnam. Vietnam has many attractive destinations such as Phu Quoc, Nha Trang, Danang or Quang Ninh, but there are absolutely no significant differences among them. In marketing parlance, this is a lack of brand positioning for each of the above localities. This is not the case with Phuket and Pattaya of Thailand or Bali of Indonesia. Vietnam is lacking a strategy for her tourism industry as a whole and each tourist destination, and she has yet to make a distinction that encourages visitors to stay longer and spend more here.