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Vietnam tourism's litany of woes

Poor services, lack of attractions, and myopic authorities have helped cause a decline in foreign visitor arrivals since last October.

Statistics from the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism revealed that 5.69 million international tourists visited the country till September of this year.

This was a drop of 5.9 per cent over the same period last year. In September, international visitors to Vietnam were estimated at more than 626,300 arrivals, decreasing 5.8 per cent against the previous month after posting rises in July and August.

Markets which posted the biggest falls in the number of arrivals to Vietnam included Cambodia, which dropped 43.5 per cent over the same period last year, Thailand, which was down 27.6 per cent, and Laos that dropped 25.9 per cent, in addition to China, which went down 18.2 per cent, Indonesia, which dropped 13.2 per cent, and Russia which saw a drop of 10.6 per cent.

The World Tourism Organisation's statistics revealed at a recent meeting in Hanoi that the number of foreign arrivals to Vietnam rose by an average 8.9 per cent during the past decade, far exceeding the average growth rate of the world at 3.4 per cent.

However, the number of foreign arrivals to Vietnam has been on a downward trend this year from a year ago, suggesting that the country's tourism industry needed to be improved to fully tap its potential and attract foreigners.

"International visitor numbers have declined relentlessly since October 2014," Tuoi tre (Youth) newspaper said in a report. "Tourism authorities blame the fluctuations in the Russian rouble for the decline in Russian tourism arrivals."

But at the same time visitor numbers are growing in to other countries in the region.

Thailand, for instance, saw the number of visitors rise by 27.4 per cent in the first eight months of this year.

Cambodia has also reported consistent growth. According to statistics from its Ministry of Tourism, international tourist numbers topped 2.3 million in the first six months, up 4.6 per cent.

It had received more than 4.5 million visitors last year, a 7 per cent rise.

It would be hard for Vietnamese tourism to compete since neighbouring countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore regularly launch interesting promotions and tourism products, tourism experts said.

The newspaper quoted analysts as saying the slump in Vietnam's tourism is because of poor promotion and a dearth of products.

A clip titled "Welcome to Vietnam" launched on social media and YouTube by the Ministry of Tourism was hailed by professional tour operators.

The newspaper quoted the analysts as saying that if something like this had been done sooner and on a regular basis, Vietnam's tourism would not be a basket case like now since the country has many more interesting things than shown in the clip.

If beautiful images of Vietnam are shown regularly, there would be more international visitors to the country, Matthew Underwood, director of Matterhorn Communications, a PR company which counts many resorts in Vietnam among its clients, said.

Information about Vietnam is scarce in many countries, with many even thinking the country was at war recently.

A director of an international travel company with a representative office in Vietnam said the number of European visitors his company brought to the country this year had fallen by double digits.

It had to find customers in other markets but this had not been enough, he said.

"We organised fam trips, bringing journalists and representatives of travel companies to Vietnam, but our Vietnamese partners charged us."

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