Japanese tourism industry insiders dismiss the claims made by Vietnamese tourism authorities, saying few Japanese tourists ever return to Vietnam because of poor service and lack of attractions.
The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism recently estimated 40 percent of Japanese return to Vietnam at least for a second time.
But a spokesperson for leading Japanese tour operator JTB said at the Ho Chi Minh City International Tourism Fair last September that "many Japanese would be surprised with the big number. But that included those coming for business purposes."
"Vietnam is not a popular destination for Japanese tourists yet."
Shigemastsu Akifumi of H.I.S Song Han tourism company based in Da Nang said the company received 12,000 tourists from Japan every year but less than 1 percent made a second visit.
"They say there's nothing interesting," he said.
Many are angered by the unrespectful and indifferent attitude of staffs at hotels, even at four- and five-star places, and large restaurants, saying they just bring the food and rarely ask or notice if customers need a seasoning or tissues, he said.
"The Vietnamese managers tend to side with their staff even if they make mistakes, and the tourists can only solve their problems after talking to foreign managers."
His company itself has problems with many restaurants, which promise a proper menu but then serve something else and offer "unacceptable" excuses like they are unable to find the right ingredients or have a new chef, he said.
Hospitality agencies in Vietnam are happy with "receiving a visitor just once" and that is a "dangerously" low bar, he added.
Saori Kozumi, a manager at the HCMC-based Apex company, a leading tour operator for Japanese in Vietnam, said taxi scams, dirty toilets, and airport bureaucracy also discouraged tourists from returning.
The low number of tour guides who can speak Japanese -- just 401 -- is another problem for Japanese tourists, tour companies said.
They are looking forward to Vietnam setting up a tourism promotion agency in Japan.
The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism approved such an office more than a decade ago, but nothing has happened so far.
Hoang Thi Diep, deputy head of the administration, said they have been allocated around VND1 billion (US$47,850) for the office in Japan, but it would cost nearly VND4.2 billion.
She said she has sought the assistance of Vietnam Airlines and tourism companies in the two countries.
Laos and Cambodia have tourism offices in Japan though they get fewer Japanese tourists than Vietnam, which ranks 12th among countries visited by Japanese tourists.
Nguyen Quoc Ky, general director of state-owned tourism company Vietravel, said: "It is important to make people return, especially from nearby markets since that will prove the attractiveness and stability of the destination."
But with Vietnam not managing to prove that yet, Ky said it has lost value as a destination and his Japanese partners keep asking for price cuts.
His company had to reduce prices by 10 percent last year and has been asked for a further 10-15 percent discount this year.
Akifumi said "The return rate is low, so we need to attract new customers by offering painfully low prices.
"The situation is very difficult, but few government officials understand that."
Under these circumstances, Vietnam's target of getting one million Japanese tourists by 2015 seems out of reach, the companies said.
The number of visitors from that country increased 8.9 percent last year to more than 481,500, including those coming for business.
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