It's the traffic, stupid!

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In the April 22-28 issue of the Thanh Nien Weekly, the article titled "Report finds Vietnam lagging behind in regional tourism" starts thus: "Despite its rich culture and stunning natural beauty..." Very true, but a lot of the "expert" comments showcase a distinct lack of expertise.

It cites a survey by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) that shows "85 percent of visitors do not want to return to the country." I have been saying for years that my travels in successful countries show they all get 85 percent returns. The VNAT survey apparently did not ask the "why not" question. I have been telling anyone who cares to listen what the answer is for years.

Traffic, traffic, traffic. One visitor told me: "In places where they have terrorists or social unrest we might avoid it. But the most dangerous holiday destination in the world is Vietnam. We can't avoid crossing the road or using any form of transport."

So how about looking at the success stories?

Nobody ever got civilized disciplined traffic by accident. They got it with efficient enforcement and very serious penalties. You could start with Singapore! 15 years after I moved to Vietnam that traffic situation has worsened considerably. On Page 6 [of the same issue] the story headed "Deadly roads" talks about the direct economic impacts of fatal accidents. The indirect economic effect is to kill this foreign-currency earning industry - tourism.

It should have taken a lot less than 35 years to wake up to this. How long will it take for some dynamic action to start catching up with the global market?

Another common problem frequently mentioned is the horrendous bureaucracy connected with visas that give a first impression of being unwelcome. There is an easy approach to this problem. Visas are to keep poor, potential illegal immigrants, out of rich countries. Stop being poor! Stop using bureaucratic visas to keep rich people out of our poor country.

My observation of countries with successful tourism shows that they are all winners because of one thing: CHOICE.

It does not matter whether or not I think a place is wonderful or whether people agree or disagree with me. It matters that millions of visitors return to it. So where are they returning to?

Test the demand. If everyone thinks a place or event is boring it will fail. Festivals with plinkety plonk music. If everyone thinks it is too similar to Bali, Nepal and everywhere in between it will fail. Kites? Water puppets? Fine. Remember that a lot of these are of the "been there, done that, got the T-shirt" variety. They will not bring visitors back.

The beach promenades, marinas, the facilities and the activities are what will bring tourists back repeatedly to where they know they can get what they want, a welcome as regular customers, no stress, a home away from home.

These are virtually missing in Vietnam after 35 years. Your "experts" never seem to mention any of this.

Among our biggest mistakes is pollution. We do too many things that cause it. We have too many golf courses which will cause a water shortage. Why do your "experts" never mention any of this? I am not an expert. Merely someone who knows something about management and marketing.

This is a pure marketing project. Find what customers want, show them you have it, and deliver on your promise. You've had a column about (tourism) slogans earlier. They can help if the reality is good. If not, they will be completely overwhelmed by word of mouth, the media, twitter and blogs.

Yours faithfully,

Patrick Moran

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