|Happy visitors, troubled waters: Foreign tourists go kayaking in Lan Ha Bay, Hai Phong City. The number of international visitors to Viet Nam has experienced a 13.7 per cent year-on-year fall in the first quarter of the year, evidence that tourism promotions carried out by the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism are not as effective as expected. — VNA Photo Lam Khanh
by Lan Dung
Le Thu Mai was looking for leads for her next vacation at the end of April when she stumbled up on "Vietnam Timeless Charm". The resident of the central province of Nghe An was very pleased to see an official YouTube tourism promotion channel launched by the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT).
She felt very good that the agency (under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism) was using the social media for promoting the nation's attractions to people all around the world. It made it easy for her to introduce the country to her friends, especially foreigners, she thought.
However, all such thoughts and hopes vanished once she watched the videos on the channel, which had been launched at the beginning of January.
After nearly three months, it had collected an unimpressive 2,000 views or so with very few people clicking on the clips.
In its introduction, the VNAT proclaimed that the channel "aims to spread information, enhance the popularisation on Vietnamese tourism in the media, and provide tourism news and programmes for local and international people".
However the titles of the videos and their content were all in Vietnamese, which would not encourage foreigners to see them.
John Grist, an English risk management consultant who has visited Viet Nam three or four times and travelled to many places including Ha Noi, HCM City, Da Nang, Hoi An and Hue City, said his travel decisions were based on recommendations of his son, colleagues and friends.
Grist said he had not heard anything of the newly launched channel, and when he did go to it, he did not understand anything.
"The channel in Vietnamese only provides an insular message that says nothing about Viet Nam's beauty, charms, heritages, culture and wonders to anyone beyond its borders."
Do Thi Thanh Hoa, deputy director of the Institute for Tourism Development Research under VNAT, said that the YouTube channel was a new way to promote tourism besides the traditional forms like participating in fairs, exhibitions and road shows, as also organising farm trips and press meets.
"I think that the new way of promotion will be effective, easy-to-access and appropriate for current development trends…," she said, adding, "English subtitles will be added in uploaded videos very soon."
Having visited other Southeast Asian countries, Grist said Viet Nam's neighbouring like Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore have had more successful tourism promotions.
"They have spent considerable sums on these campaigns and carefully targeted traditional media using social media as supplementary, not core. Look at 'Malaysia, Truly Asia' or Singapore or Thai Airlines TV campaigns broadcast globally.
"These campaigns give the subliminal message that moves people from their seats to consider these countries as vacation destinations of choice - only after receiving these messages will social media play a role as search engines are utilised," he said.
He continued: "YouTube is too far down the pecking order to be an exclusive ‘advertising medium'. But, with the possible exception of Singapore, these countries provide exemplary service standards, a wide range of accommodation and general hospitality and infrastructure such as pavements that do not put tourists in fear of their lives – hence the large number of return visitors."
Nguyen Anh Tuan, CEO of Greensea Tours, said Viet Nam has spent very little on tourism promotions, although these activities have received much attention of late. Every year, VNAT is awarded just VND60-70 billion (US$2.85 - 3.33 million) for tourism promotion while other countries spend much more.
"My company's foreign visitors often learn about Viet Nam through promotions done by their country's travel agencies. Big international travel agencies like South Korea's Hana Tour are willing to pay for tourism promotions to attract Korean people to visit Viet Nam. I think that their promotions are very effective."
Recently, many Vietnamese citizens and foreign nationals expressed their dismay and opposition to the construction of a cable car system on the Fansipan Mountain, and another one for the Son Doong Cave. They said such projects would cheapen the image of Viet Nam because people the world over are sensitive to preserving a country's natural beauty, history and heritage.
Hoa of the Tourism Development Research Institute said construction of the cable car needs to be considered carefully to safeguard sustainable development and follow domestic legal regulations as well as regulations of international organisations that Viet Nam was part of.
"I think that the construction will lead to changes in the tourism market, and in tourism products and types. The large number of tourists will put pressure on the resources, environment and affect landscapes of national parks and world heritages."
Tuan said he was in favour of the cable car system on Fansipan but not the one in Son Doong. He said the cave was unique and needed to be preserved, adding foreign visitors were interested in preservation, unlike local tourists who focused more on sightseeing.
The General Statistics Office has said a 13.7 per cent year-on-year fall in the number of visitors Viet Nam received in the first quarter, and projects a slight fall in the coming months as well.
Mai said she was not surprised, given the weak campaigns Viet Nam had launched so far. — VNS