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Tourism promotion: promoting its charm

Vietnam, a well hidden treasure? Yes, for a long time it was, the country remained hidden from gazes that focused on Thailand and Indonesia, its tourism sector is now experiencing a veritable beauty cure. During the last decade, the number of international arrivals grew two-fold. Starting with just over 2 million arrivals at the beginning of the millennium, at the end of 2008 Vietnam reached a total of 4.25 million tourists.The tumultuous past of these two countries seem to be fading behind a desire to discover the charm of the country. The report for 2010 by the luxury travel specialist Virtuoso, which studies the expectations of upmarket American clientele, shows that Vietnam has the wind in its sails. The country is on the podium of emerging destinations together with India and Cuba, prefiguring growth in reservations for 2010 as well as the years to come. The arrival of new properties from US hospitality giants could further prolong this strong trend..This figure is certainly slightly beneath the ambitious goal set by the national tourism administration (VNAT), meaning 5 million visitors in 2008. But it nonetheless testifies to a growing interest in a destination that has all the assets necessary to play in the big league. The idyllic images of the Halong Bay are in everyone’s minds. Its historic heritage is particularly rich with the ancient imperial capital Hue and the cities of My Son and Hoi An, all wonders on Unesco’s World Heritage list, to which one might add the temple of Angkor or Luang Prabang within the framework of tourist circuits paired with neighboring Cambodia and Laos. Another asset: its cities, with the capital of Hanoi in the lead, are developing a subtle blend of a thousand-year-old culture, French colonial charm and the effervescence of Asia today. And Vietnam has other riches to offer such as the discovery of the Hmong minority in the mountains in the northwest or moments of relaxation along the beaches of Hoi An, Danang or Nha Trang or cruises on the Mekong. Thanks to all these powerful and diverse arguments, the VNAT was hoping to reach the benchmark of 8 million visitors by the end of 2010.But then came crisis. 2009 saw a decade of growth come to a halt. Arrivals dropped by nearly 11% to 3.78 million tourists. Paradoxically, the country has not suffered dramatically from a loss of long-haul leisure clientele or from the shrinking volume of business travelers. In fact, as proof of the country’s economic dynamism, business tourism was only slightly affected (-0.2%) by the financial storm that froze corporate travel worldwide. In the leisure segment, which represents two-thirds of arrivals, American and French clientele remained at a good level with a drop by less than 5%, far from the average 15% drop observed on this segment. It is local clientele that were absent for the most part. South Korea, China, Thailand, Taiwan: all these supply countries post drops by between 10% and 20%. Fortunately, like 2003, a year that was penalized by SARS, 2009 will have been just a sad parentheses on a conquering streak. From the first months of 2010, the sector is off again with new vigor. In the first four months of the year, arrivals posted growth by 35% with respect to the same period in 2009. Intra-regional tourism gates are open again.Chinese visitors are up by 109%, Korean visitors by 31%, Thai visitors by 23% and Japanese visitors by 14%. Americans, French and Australians, the three primary clientele from outside Asia, also proved more numerous. Also, in light of this progressive return to normal, the VNAT expects 4.5 million arrivals for the entire year. But the country cannot rest on its laurels yet. Whereas intra-regional tourism generates regular arrivals of tourist groups, pursuing the conquest of individual clientele is one of the goals. The country’s strategy thus addresses European and American markets as well as Russians, who are a clientele who have enjoyed the beach resort offering for some time. Current initiatives include festivities next October to celebrate the thousand years of the city of Hanoi, formerly known as Than Long (ascending dragon), providing an opportunity to promote the country’s tourism offering, particularly in France and Australia, two markets that are fond of the destination either for its history or geographic location. Growth perspectives are also favorable on the American market.

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