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Aiming high or complacency?
The Saigon Times Daily
Monday,  Jun 19, 2017,21:30 (GMT+7)

Aiming high or complacency?

The Saigon Times Daily

Tourism has lately been touted as one of the country’s economic spearheads, given the strong growth of over 20% in both international arrivals and revenues.

Recognizing the country’s strengths so as to have proper measures to make the most of such strengths is a right thing to do, and that approach requires concerted efforts from all relevant agencies to bring those potentials into play. However, relying on the phenomenal growth in a certain period to project ambitious goals without proper steps to overcome the fundamental weaknesses might be a trap leading to complacency, which itself hinders development.

Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Ngoc Thien, when answering the National Assembly last week, said Vietnam can still catch up with Thailand in the next 15 years, if the tourism growth is maintained at 20% a year while Thailand’s pace stays at 7%. Such an assertion is doubtful.

Vietnam’s tourism industry last year saw international arrivals exceeding ten million, while Thailand’s number is well over 32.5 million, which means a staggering development pace between the two countries.

Over the last six years, for instance, the number of foreign visitor arrivals in Thailand doubled, from 15.93 million in 2010 to over 32 million last year, which is a spectacular growth rate for a developed tourism market. Meanwhile, arrivals in Vietnam also doubled in the same time span, from five million in 2010 to ten million last year, but it is the high development rate from scratch.

In fact, Vietnam’s tourism currently still trails behind many regional rivals.

Data from the Vietnam National Administration for Tourism (VNAT) shows Thailand still tops the ASEAN ranking with 32.6 million international arrivals in 2016, followed by Malaysia with 26.8 million, Singapore with 16.4 million, and Indonesia with 12 million. Therefore, the number of ten million Vietnam boasts should not be any strong hint that the country can leapfrog other competitors to catch up with the leader, as regional countries have also been making steady progress.

At a certain stage of development, weaknesses will surface, hindering the growth tempo. And weaknesses in Vietnam’s tourism are numerous at that.

Big problems threatening the country’s sustainable tourism development include the lack of skilled manpower, less competitive tourism products, poor publicity, worsening environmental pollution, traffic nightmare, tourist harassment, and scams by vendors that discourage tourists from repeating their visits.

VNAT last week published a report on the global tourism competitiveness compiled by the World Economic Forum, giving major indicators of 136 countries. The 2017 index puts Vietnam’s overall ranking at 67 out of 136, but many indicators show worrying setbacks.

Apart from natural and cultural resources that take higher rankings, at 34th and 30th respectively, Vietnam’s environmental sustainability ranks 129th out of 136, tourism infrastructure at 113th, Government spending for tourism at 114th, and visa requirement at 116th among others. These are all hard nuts to crack.

Aiming high for tourism development is an encouraging sign, but to approach – let alone to realize - such an ambitious goal, the fundamental weaknesses cited above must be addressed first, and it requires strong commitment from all relevant bodies in the State machine, including a strong political commitment. There should be no place for complacency.

The Saigon Times Daily

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