|A tourguide helps visitors to explore the Thien Cung (Heavenly Palace) Cave in Ha Long Bay. Experts say that training the workforce is the key to developing tourism in Viet Nam. — VNA/VNS Photo Tran Viet
by Xuan Huong
HCM CITY (VNS)— Viet Nam should take advantage of the opportunity presented by the global slump defying travel and tourism sector in Asia by protecting its natural landscapes and improving the skills of its tourism workforce, experts say.
At a tourism panel discussion organised last week in HCM City, they said the travel and tourism sector in Asia continues to show robust signs of growth, despite the world economic slowdown, bolstered by the region's huge population base and growing middle class.
Jeannie Lim, executive director of Singapore Tourism Board's Conventions and Meetings and Exhibitions and Conferences, said latest projections from the World Tourism Organisation show that tourism in Asia will continue to grow by between 5-6 per cent, well ahead of the global growth rate of 3-4 per cent.
Stronger economic prospects and rising income growth in Asian economies like China, Indonesia and India have contributed to a rise in outbound travellers from the region, she said.
"According to a joint study by Singapore Tourism Board, the Boston Consulting Group and Visa, released at Travel Rave 2012, by 2020, Asian middle affluent consumers in China, India, Indonesia will consist of 46 per cent of Asia Pacific's population, take 160 million outbound trips per year, spend US$300 billion on travel annually and form 25 per cent of global outbound tourism expenditure," she said.
Many delegates agreed that demand of Asian travellers is changing, not just focusing on sightseeing and shopping as a few years ago.
It is therefore vital for tourism businesses to understand the specific needs of travellers to effectively capitalise on opportunities different groups of travellers present, they said.
The number of travellers booking tours and hotels online was on the rise, they said.
Tran Trong Kien, chairman and CEO of the Thien Minh Group, said online booking was an increasingly important and popular trend in the industry.
The number of total customers making online bookings accounted for 10 per cent in Viet Nam at present and is set to rise to 20-30 per cent in the near future, Minh said.
Paul Wan, managing director of UBM Asia Limited as well as other delegates said there were potential business opportunities for developing cruise ship tourism in Asia.
There is a pressing need for co-operation among cruise ship operators in the region to develop the cruise ship tourism along the Mekong River, they said.
There is a high human resource demand in the tourism industry, and it will be even higher in the coming years, experts said, adding that it will be a big challenge for many countries including Viet Nam.
Tran Phu Cuong, deputy director general of the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism's International
Co-operation Department, said Viet Nam needs at least 30,000 more skilled workers every year in the coming years.
"But current supply is just 22,000-25,000 workers," he said.
Currently Viet Nam has about 1.5 million people working in the tourism industry, including 0.5 million who directly serve tourists.
Of this number, 19.8 per cent have received some training and 60 per cent can speak a foreign language, Cuong said.
With limited training, or mostly theory training and little or no practical training, Viet Nam's tourism workforce lacks experience, skills and professionalism for providing good quality services, many delegates agreed.
Tran Dat Duy, deputy chairman of the Mekong Delta Toursim Association, said Viet Nam's beautiful landscapes and its culture present great potential for the tourism industry.
However, as of today, the domestic tourism industry is lagging far behind other countries in the ASEAN region, he said.
Viet Nam, with its population of 90 million, attracted 6.8 million foreign arrivals last year, earning nearly $7 billion, while Singapore, with a 5.5 million population, welcomed 14 million foreign visitors and earned $22 billion, Duy said.
Dr Hank Duyverman, director of the Pegasus International UniCenter Ha Noi, said training schools must have programmes that suit enterprises' demand and ensure that students can perform their tasks well after they graduate and get jobs.
The country needs to establish national qualification systems for tourism by harmonising national and regional qualification sytems, and adopting the Common ASEAN Tourism Curriculum (CATC), Cuong said.
He said Viet Nam targets welcoming about 10.5 million foreign visitors by 2020 and earning $18.5 billion in tourism revenues.
The discussion panel on tourism industry was organised under the framework of the Viet Nam-Singapore Business Forum. — VNS