Singapore: Last week, at the India-Vietnam Tourism Promotion Conference held on August 17 in Ho Chi Minh City, government officials and industry representatives from the two countries met to discuss how they can promote inbound tourism from India.
Organized by the Consulate General of India in Ho Chi Minh City, the meeting was welcomed by Pham Van Thuy, Vice Chairman of Vietnam National Tourism Administration (VNAT) and Pranay Verma, Indian Ambassador to Vietnam. Recognizing that business ties between travel firms in the two countries are essential to the growth of the travel market in Vietnam, 34 travel companies from the two countries held discussions and shared tourism information to increase travel demand from Indians to Vietnam.
In addition to leisure travelers, Vietnam is keen to promote itself as a MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions) destination and also as an overseas wedding destination.
In July, a group of 460 business leaders spent three days in Hi Chi Minh City on a trip organized by B2B travel company Asia Destination Management (Asia DMC).
Vietnam has actively encouraged Indians to visit their country through a series of bilateral conferences and other activities, including sponsored business trips. VNAT hopes these activities will enable its travel industry to tap into a market that has a population of 1.4 billion.
According to Tran Phong Binh, Deputy Director of Tourism Marketing Department, VNAT, 20 million Indians travel abroad for vacation every year. He said, “Vietnam possesses amazing scenic spots and a number of famous tourist destinations such as Ha Noi, Ha Long Bay, Sa Pa, Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City, etc. Vietnam has full potential to attract Indian visitors to come, travel and relax.”
In his speech, he noted that the number of Indian visitors to Vietnam remains modest and an important way to increase this is for better connectivity between the two countries.
Direct flights between cities are a key factor to promote travel as travelers usually do not like to sit in the transit area of a third country’s airport, sometimes for hours, waiting for a connecting flight. A direct flight between an Indian city and a Vietnamese one takes about five to six hours, but connecting via Bangkok or Singapore can double the travel time to 10 or 12 hours.
At present, budget carriers Vietjet Air and IndiGo together operate a dozen or so direct flights between cities in the two countries per week. In June, Vietnam Airlines launched direct flights between New Delhi and the two main Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City – twice a week and three times a week, respectively.
Vietjet Air recently announced that they will fly from the Vietnamese city of Da Nang to New Delhi and Mumbai. Da Nang itself is well known for its pristine sandy beaches, but is also easily connected to the ancient city of Hue and the quaint and beautiful old town of Hoi An. Hue is known for its well-preserved ancient walled city and was the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty emperors and the national capital from 1802 to 1945.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a global travel shutdown, Vietnam welcomed around 170,000 Indian visitor arrivals in 2019.
This placed India in 16th place among international sourcing markets for Vietnam.
Tourist arrivals to Vietnam reached an all-time high in 2019, when it welcomed 18 million visitors. During that year, the top country from which visitors came was China with 5.8 million arrivals, accounting for 21 percent of the total. This was followed by South Korea with 4.3 million, Japan (952,000) and Taiwan (926,000).
With the large traditional travel market for Vietnam still under varying degrees of COVID enforcement controls due to their strict disease mitigation policies, it is therefore no surprise that Vietnam is keen to explore new markets.
In this regard, success has been mixed when compared to its neighbors.
Since opening without quarantine in mid-March, Vietnam has attracted 602,000 tourists for the first half of the year. In the same period, Thailand had 2.2 million tourists, Malaysia 2 million, Singapore 1.5 million and the Philippines 814,000.
Vietnam aims for five million foreign visitors this year, about 30 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
Apart from the lack of flights, the other hurdle cited by industry professionals is the strict visa policies.
Pham Ha, CEO of Lux Group, a luxury cruise operator, told Vietnamese online newspaper VN Express, “Many foreign tourists had canceled their trips to Vietnam because they could not get an entry visa. These current visa policies are major barriers for the recovery of Vietnam’s tourism.
Vietnam has resumed its pre-pandemic visa waiver policy for only 13 countries, including Western European markets with a maximum stay of up to 15 days. For other markets, including India, it issues only a one-month single-entry e-visa, instead of quarterly visas as before the pandemic. Visa on arrival is also not available for visitors except those traveling for business.
An e-Visa must be applied for online and may take up to seven working days to be approved.
Despite the obstacles, Indians seem to have taken to this non-traditional destination.
Earlier this month in New Delhi, at the Foreign Tourism Summit organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Vietnam’s envoy to India, Pham Sanh Chau, told them at the event that the visas issued from Vietnam to Indians have increased. 24 times.
“Before the pandemic, we were issuing 250 visas a day in India. However, recently we have been issuing 6,000 visas a day,” Pham said.
During the same conference, Rajeev Kale, president and country head, Holidays, MICE, Visa with Thomas Cook (India), said:
“Vietnam is seeing an increase (in interest) not only from corporates, but also from families, young professionals, millennials and couples. Indians are open to a shift in destinations to those that offer convenient short-haul access and ( are) easier on the wallet.”