Cambodians who can afford to travel are finding more and more reasons to visit Vietnam, especially for medical purposes.
However, despite the figures showing significant jumps in the number of visitors from the neighboring nation, most local travel agencies are showing a distinct lack of alacrity in taking advantage of this market potential.
Several agents say the benefits are not attractive enough, as Cambodian tourists typically choose low-priced tours, and mainly to southern areas. Their spending on services during the short-term trips is not high either, they add.
Nguyen Cong Hoan, deputy director of Hanoi Redtour, said his firm has not yet focused on tapping the market, because of its small scale and the low paying capacity of its customers. "Tourists from this market are mainly common customers. Their trips last one or two days, and they are mainly to Ho Chi Minh City. They often combine traveling with healthcare."
Cambodian visitors travel to northern areas mainly for business purposes, so the number of the customers is not high, he said. "Thus, foreign currency earned from these customers is not much."
However, there are a few travel agents that have begun showing interest of late, offering low-priced tours to Cambodian customers at about $150 for a four-day tour. However, low prices also limit the quality of services, so the tours become less attractive, said one representative.
Moreover, said Nguyen Minh Man, a Vietravel representative, some Cambodian tourists travel to Vietnam in their own cars. They often know the Vietnamese language and are conversant with Vietnamese ways, so they don't need the assistance of tour guides and the service of travel agents.
Tran Thi Hai Yen, a representative of travel agent Vietran Tour, said: "We have tapped the Cambodian tourism market for years. However, the number of customers is not large, around 200 in 2010. Cambodian visitors travel to Vietnam mainly by land, through southern border gates."
Man said: "The most difficult thing for travel agents in tapping the Cambodian market is to spur tourism demand. As of now, Cambodians have not yet developed the habit of traveling."
Cambodia's per capita income has reached $600 a year, nearly twice that of 2001. Man said now that the income is rising, Vietnamese travel agents need to seize the opportunity and attract more Cambodian tourists.
Vietnam attracted over one million foreign visitors in the first two months of this year, an increase of 19.5 percent over the same period last year, according to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism. Among foreign markets, the number of visitors from Cambodia saw the highest hike, at 42.8 percent, to 46,600.
Nguyen Quy Phuong, deputy director of the administration's travel department, said the number of Cambodian customers is still moderate now, but the market's potential is big.
"Cambodian people's incomes are increasing, so their demand for traveling abroad will rise," he said. "Our tourism sector should strengthen its focus on tapping the market."
To effectively expand the market, Vietnam should improve the quality of its tourism services and increase promotion programs. Until now, the sector has not paid due attention to developing services targeted at specific customer segments, Phuong said.
Man of Vietravel said: "The number of Cambodian customers compared to the total number of foreign visitors to Vietnam is not high. However, the growth in the number of visitors from the market is very high. Thus, we consider this a big potential market."
Vietravel expects to serve 10,000 Cambodian visitors this year, double the figure in 2010, Man said. To expand the market, his firm has opened two representative offices in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
The company will focus on customers who are looking to combine travel with medical treatment in Vietnam, he said. "Hospitals in Vietnam are better than those in Cambodia, and their prices are more competitive than Thailand's. Thus, the demand among Cambodians for healthcare services in Vietnam is very high."
Vietravel has designed special tours for the customers that allow them to get medical treatment in hospitals of international standard, and then visit some tourism sites in southern localities like HCMC, Binh Duong and Vung Tau.
To promote its programs, Vietravel recently invited a group of Cambodian reporters to participate in a field trip to Vietnam.
"We plan to improve services to Cambodian customers by expanding tours to Vietnam's northern and central localities in the coming time," Man said.
Meanwhile, Yen of Vietran Tour said her firm was carrying out field research to better tap the market. It will focus on customers who combine business and traveling, and travel often to Hanoi and HCMC, she said.