Viet Nam News
ĐÀ NẴNG — Despite welcoming 500 international cruises each year, Việt Nam only hosts around 300,000 tourists from cruises – just 3 per cent of the total number of foreigners visiting the country in a year – and the percentage of tourists visiting by cruise did not grow in 2017.
Trương Thị Thu Hương from the Việt Nam National Tourism Administration (VNAT) told the Đà Nẵng International Cruise Tourism conference on Thursday that Việt Nam, with 45 sea ports, was seen as a top-four cruise destination in the world after Japan, China and Thailand. She said international cruises often dock at two or three ports in Việt Nam during their ocean voyages.
Hương said famous cruises including Super Star Virgo, Star Cruise, Costa Victoria and Genting Dream had visited Việt Nam.
“We have developed a deep-sea port system for giant cruise ships from 50,000GRT (Gross Tonnage) to 100,000GRT, and six ports – Hòn Gai, Chân Mây, Tiên Sa, Nha Trang, Phú Mỹ and Phú Quốc – were designed to host cruise ships only,” Hương said.
Tourists arrive at a sea port border gate in central Việt Nam. — VNS Photo Công Thành
She said poor tourism products and shopping centres as well as insufficient port infrastructure have kept cruise tourism at bay, while connections between ports and mainland destinations have not been cared for by locals.
Hà Bích Liên, an adviser of the Royal Caribbean International Cruise line, said Việt Nam should focus on how to build up a system of specialised ports for receiving cruise ships with comprehensive infrastructure and service.
“Việt Nam should think about cruises and ports,” Liên said. “Most ports in Việt Nam could not handle newly developed generations of cruise ships. Cruises with a capacity of 7,600 passengers and crew members have not yet accessed the nation’s ports.”
“Tiên Sa Port in Đà Nẵng, for example, could not offer docking for our big, 562m-long cruise ships,” she said. “Only Hạ Long Port was designed to host cruise ships, while most other ports were built for shared use by cargo and cruise ships.”
Liên said Royal Caribbean is offering to invest in upgrading the Chân Mây Port so it will be able to accommodate its giant cruise ships.
She suggested that port administrations in Việt Nam design a service at ports for tourists staying for a short time.
“About 70 per cent of tourists pay visits to destinations on the mainland after long journeys on board, while the others stay on the ship or walk around the port area for shopping or entertainment,” she said. She suggested adding shopping centres at ports to lure tourists onto shore.
She explained that cruise tourists do not waste time travelling from the port to tourism hubs whenever cruises stop, so they need entertainment or shopping services at the port or on the cruise.
Liên said locals would earn a lot from a cruise with 4,000 passengers as each tourist spends an average of US$100.
Linh Ứng Pagoda in Đà Nẵng is a favourite site of international cruise tourists. — VNS Photo Công Thành
Deputy Director of Đà Nẵng’s tourism department Nguyễn Xuân Bình said the city’s port hosted 74 cruise ships carrying 87,000 international tourists in 2018 – 29.9 per cent of the country’s total cruise tourists.
Bình said Đà Nẵng, situated in central Việt Nam, has close links to other ports in Asia such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, Japan, Taipei, Singapore and Malaysia, with a range from 550 to 2,300 nautical miles.
Tiên Sa Port was a favourite dock for cruises, but a lack of international standard shopping centres and entertainment, duty-free shops and unique souvenirs have limited the city’s ability to boost cruise tourism.
“Đà Nẵng welcomed 6.5 million tourists, of which 2.4 million were foreigners (40 per cent growth), in the first 10 months of 2018, but cruise tourists only accounted 3.76 per cent, spending $80 each,” Bình said.
According to Kamal Ahmed from NV Terminals Group, a port development and engineering firm, Việt Nam has the potential to be part of itineraries from Hong Kong to Malaysia on the Straits, with Sanya (China) as a bridging destination.
He said the distances between various ports are larger, but still convenient, and the key factor is the development of port infrastructure.
He added that Việt Nam has built a strong brand with multiple UNESCO heritage sites accessible via cruise excursions and well-known cities along the coast.
However, Ahmed said that among challenges to Việt Nam’s cruise industry is the country’s reliance on cargo terminals to provide cruise berths.
“Finding suitable locations for dedicated berths is not always easy. The solution in the near future is to mitigate passenger inconveniences when berthing at cargo facilities,” he said.
Chăm Sculpture Museum in Đà Nẵng is the most visited site in central Việt Nam after Hội An and Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary. — VNS Photo Công Thành
“There are no easy answers; each destination must be studied on a case-by-case basis to determine the best solution,” he said. “Once facilities are improved, other challenges such as diversifying source markets, challenging negative sentiments and building new itineraries with cruise lines can be handled at a more tactical level.”
According to Cruise Lines International Association, the number of Vietnamese cruise tourists had increased from 158 passengers in 2012 to 4,100 in 2016.
It said young cruise travelers (under 40 years old) have increased in recent years, and Asia has emerged as the fastest growing cruise market, with the number of tourists rising from 1.5 million in 2013 to 4.26 million in 2018.
Asia has 78 cruise ships out of 314 in the world in 2018. — VNS