Tourists seek cheaper options
At the end of last year, Ha Noi housewife Nguyen Phuong Ha intended to book a tour to Europe for her family in April. But she and her husband changed their minds because of the increasing cost of travel, booking a less-costly tour to South Korea instead.
"All the costs have gone up so fast," Ha told a the online newspaper To Quoc (Motherland). "It's extravagant to spend VND90 million (US$4,500) per person for a trip to Europe. We chose a closer destination to manage our travel budget more effectively."
High inflation has been changing the minds of a lot of travellers.
Saigontourist travel agent Lam Thi Quynh Thu told Viet Nam News that short-time tours to neighbouring countries were now among the company's best-selling products, including tours to Cambodia, Thailand, China and Hong Kong. Over 1,000 tourists bought four-day tours to Cambodia for the national holiday at the end of April, at just VND4.1-4.6 million ($205-230) per person.
Overseas tours of 4-5 days to such destinations as Singapore, Myanmar, Taiwan, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, have also become popular, she said.
Van Ha, from another Ha Noi-based travel agency, also confirmed that more clients were interested in nearby destinations.
"Most clients are phoning to ask for information on tours in Asian countries," she said. "These destinations are more suited to the Vietnamese pocketbook at the present time than Europe, America or Australia."
Ha asserted, however, that overseas tour prices haven't gone up that much. Domestic tour prices have risen 5-10 per cent against the same period last year while demand rose 10-12 per cent in the same period.
"The fact is that demand for overseas tourism has increased, but living expenses have increased, too," she said. "So, people prefer tours that are a little more affordable."
Shorter domestic tours were also more popular, including 2- and 4-day trips to Phu Quoc Island, Nha Trang, Da Lat, Phan Thiet, Con Dao, and the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta region.
Hoang Cong Thang, director of an architectural firm in Ha Noi, said his company this year changed its way of organising holidays for staff and their families.
"In previous years, we often bought package tours for staff," he said. "But this year, we all joined in arranging things ourselves to save money. Each of us took responsiblity for one thing, like booking hotels."
"I have never thought of buying a tour," said Pham Van Anh of Trieu Nhat Co. "I want to make my own decision about where to go and what to do. It's not too difficult even abroad because the internet and guide books are readily available."
She said self-planned trips were also the best way to avoid inflation.
"If you don't want to stay at a three-star hotel, you can choose a two-star hotel or even a hostel," she said. "We just need a clean-enough place to stay, not luxury services and facilities. And with a packaged tour, you lose money on restaurants even if you don't eat there."
Ha argued, however, that booking a package tour in advance helped tourists avoid last-minute price hikes.
"Tourism enterprises, including travel agencies, restaurants, hotels and transportation companies, should co-ordinate to reduce service prices and maintain reasonable prices so that customers can trust in and buy the services," Vietravel representative Nguyen Minh Man told Viet Nam News. "Only that way can these enterprises exploit the growing pool of tourists and achieve sustainable growth".
Man suggested the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) should be more active to help Vietnamese tourism compete against neighbouring countries in offering good prices to foreign tourists.
Viet Nam Society of Travel Agents chairman Vu The Binh suggest promotional tour discounts starting in October, as well as price-stabilisation policies, to protect the tourism sector from high inflation this year.
Saigontourist has already offered its IKO travel tour, which cuts about 20 per cent of the previous prices. The IKO tours are available for both domestic destinations like Nha Trang, Da Nang, Phan Thiet and foreign destinations like Southeast Asia, China, Europe, Australia and the US. Vietravel and TST have also offered "saving" tours to Thailand and China, which cut prices by up to VND4 million ($200).
Carnival Tourism Co has designed their summer tour leasing programme for teachers and their families, under which travellers pay half the price of the tour and pay for the rest in three interest-free monthly installments.
Fiditour has also offered travel vouchers worth from VND100,000 ($5) to VND1 million ($50). People can buy the vouchers when they have the money, then use them later to book a domestic or overseas holiday.
Nguyen Thi Tuyet Mai from Fiditour admitted that the vouchers had been offered for the past decade and have been bought in the past by companies who presented them to staff as bonuses.
"Since the beginning of the year, Fiditour has signed voucher contacts good for year-round travel with various customers, including Panasonic, HSBC, AIA and the SHB branch in HCM City," she said.
Popular online shopping sites like nhommua.com, hotdeal.vn and muachung.vn also offer deals, such as a three-day, two-night stay at the four-star Diamond Bay Resort & Golf on muachung.vn for just VND4.2 million ($210) instead of the full price of VND9.5 million ($475). — VNS