Travel firms unprepared for regional integration

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) has been in place for more than one month, but many domestic travel agencies have not prepared products to attract more visitors from other ASEAN countries.

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The current state of tourism

For example, Cambodia welcomed more than one million Vietnamese in 2015 while Vietnam attracted only 227,000 tourists from the neighboring country, a year-on-year drop of 43.8%.Statistics showed that while Vietnamese visitors to other ASEAN countries have been on the rise over the past years, tourist arrivals from many of the regional markets have fallen.

Travel firms unprepared for regional integration
Travel firms unprepared for regional integration

Similarly, around 880,000 Vietnamese visited Thailand last year, but only 214,000 Thais traveled to Vietnam, down 13.1%. For Singapore, the respective figures were over 387,000 and 236,000 Singapore tourists.

Meanwhile, Vietnam saw modest increases in visitors from other ASEAN markets.

Travel firms unprepared for regional integration

Travel firms attributed such declines and modest growth to ineffective marketing, poor products and high prices, among others.

Marketing programs and products for ASEAN tourists are limited in comparison to Europe, Japan and other traditional key markets. Meanwhile, a number of countries in ASEAN list Vietnam as one of their major markets and opened tourism offices to carry out marketing campaigns and assist enterprises in wooing Vietnamese.

In terms of manpower, while Thailand and Singapore have Vietnamese-speaking tour guides, there are few Vietnamese guides proficient in the languages of other ASEAN countries. Finding a tourism worker able to speak Khmer or the language of Indonesia is hard in HCMC, Vietnam’s biggest tourism center.

A source from the HCMC Department of Tourism said the number of tour guide cards issued to qualified candidates in the past years was quite small.

In addition, just some of more than 1,500 firms in Vietnam licensed to provide international tourism services concentrate on ASEAN. The number of domestic firms having representative offices or branches in ASEAN countries is small as well.

With the AEC of around 500 million people in place, tourism workers can find jobs in any member state of the bloc. But how Vietnamese tourism workers can compete with their peers in other countries remains a big question. Local travel firms and agencies have not discussed and found ways to attract more tourists from ASEAN, which accounts for one-fifth of total international visitors to Vietnam.

Commenting on competition from other regional markets, TST Tourist director Lai Minh Duy said it is tough for HCMC to compete with other destinations in the region in terms of manpower, service and price.

Duy noted that his company is unable to compete with counterparts in the region without support of relevant agencies and business associations.

Travel firms unprepared for regional integration
Travel firms unprepared for regional integration

“We need coordination of management agencies to identify which products are suitable and who we are competing with. Regarding manpower, a lot of training courses have been organized but they have been inappropriate,” Duy said.

However, some firms have prepared to cope with fiercer competition by expanding sales networks, opening representative offices and restructuring operations to stay competitive.

Nguyen Quoc Ky, general director of Vietravel, said that in order to win competition, the company has opened offices in Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia. Offices in Malaysia and Indonesia will be up and running in the coming time.

Ky said gaining a strong foot hold on the home market is not enough given the nation’s deeper international integration.

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