Vietnam’s Tourism Experiences Booming Development over the Past Decade

Diep Nguyen

15:09 04/07/2019

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The number of international tourism arrivals to Vietnam has nearly quadrupled during this period, from 4.2 million in 2008 to 15.5 million in 2018.

Vietnam’s Tourism Experiences Booming Development over the Past Decade
Vietnam has experienced a boom in both inbound and domestic tourism over the past decade. The number of international tourism arrivals to Vietnam has nearly quadrupled during this period, from 4.2 million in 2008 to 15.5 million in 2018. 
Moreover, there has been a marked acceleration in international visitor growth in the last 3 years, from an average of around 9 percent per annum between 2008-2015 to an average of 25 percent between 2016-1819. 
Domestic tourism in Vietnam, which is significantly greater in volume than inbound tourism from abroad, has experienced a similar surge—a four-fold increase in the number of domestic traveler-trips, from 20.5 million in 2008 to 80 million in 2018, underpinned by Vietnam’s rapidly-growing middle class, who have a strong appetite for travel, and improving affordability of air transport amidst the growth of low-cost domestic air carriers. 
Relative to the rest of developing Southeast Asia, Vietnam’s strong inbound tourism growth has enabled it to capture a growing share of tourism demand to the region, and bring its visitor count closer to the region’s top performers. 
Over both the past 5 and 10 years, Vietnam’s international visitor growth has consistently outpaced that of its competitors in developing Southeast Asia, with the exception of Myanmar, where the higher 10-year growth reflects in large part its low starting level of visitors. 
As a result, Vietnam has been gradually capturing greater market share, not only of total tourism arrivals to developing Southeast Asia, but also of those to the broader East Asian region, including the larger and more developed tourism markets such as Singapore, China, Japan, and South Korea. 
Vietnam has now caught up with Indonesia in terms of overall number of international arrivals and narrowed the gap with the top arrival countries in the region—Malaysia and Thailand. On a per capita basis (i.e. factoring in relative country size), Vietnam’s arrivals also appear to have significantly more room to grow compared to Malaysia and Thailand, where arrivals are already roughly 80 percent and 55 percent of their respective national populations.
Vietnam’s growing regional market share appears to reflect, in part, recent improvements to various dimensions of its tourism competitiveness. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Tourism Competitiveness Index scores and ranks countries according to a variety of physical and institutional factors relevant to tourism. 
In terms of its overall score on this index in 2017, Vietnam was ranked 67th globally, stood on par with the average of the rest of its regional competitors, but was not the top regional performer (i.e. on the regional “frontier”) in any single dimension of competitiveness. However, since 2015 (the prior iteration of the index), Vietnam has achieved the largest overall improvement in competitiveness among its regional peers, with its largest strides coming in the areas of ICT readiness, international openness, safety and security, and ground and port infrastructure.
Despite these gains, important weaknesses in relative competitiveness remain. Vietnam still lags the rest of the region considerably with regards to its tourist service and air transport infrastructure, as well as its prioritization of the tourism sector. The latter primarily reflects a relatively low allocation of government spending to the tourism sector (1.4 percent of total government expenditure in 2017, 114th among global comparators), despite its declared strategic importance, as well as the limited coverage and comprehensiveness of Vietnam’s tourism sector statistics (116th globally). 
On a global basis, it is also important to note Vietnam’s weakness in the area of environmental sustainability (129th globally)— although it ranks on par with its regional comparators, the region as a whole performs very poorly in this dimension. 
Finally, in the area of international openness, Vietnam’s visa regime, which has been liberalized somewhat in recent years, still lags compared to the relatively more open visa policies of key regional competitors.
The vast majority of international visitors to Vietnam originate from Northeast Asia, especially China, South Korea and Japan. Collectively, these three countries accounted for 60 percent of Vietnam’s international arrivals in 2018. A significant share of visitors (11 percent) also come from the nearby Southeast Asian nations. Other top visitor source markets are the United States (4.4 percent) and Russia (3.9 percent), reflecting their strong historical links to Vietnam.

DIEP NGUYEN

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