A CNN camera crew on a trip to film a commercial video for Ha Long Bay in 2007
Vietnam can do a good job of tourism promotion despite its limited funds if it focuses on certain destinations and activities instead of spreading itself too thin. But the key to that is having capable, professional staff, the chairman of the Vietnam Society of Travel Agents, Vu The Binh, tells Vietweek.
Vietweek: Vietnam's tourism promotion is not thought to be effective. Why?
Vu The Binh: The results of promotion depend on many factors of which the economy is important, but the human factor is even more so.
We lack uniform guidance, capable staff, and funds. The country allocated some VND27 billion ($1.29 billion) for tourism promotion 15 years ago. Now the amount has been raised to VND30-40 billion. In real terms, the amount has been sharply cut, to just a third of the earlier amount.
The number of government personnel in the tourism sector is also down. Earlier provinces and cities had tourism departments to manage their tourism development. Now they have only 1-2 tourism bureaus under the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism to do this. We do not have enough staff, especially professional ones.
Can Vietnam promote its tourism well despite the limited funds?
We should cut our coat according to our cloth. With a larger outlay, we can promote tourism at big events; with a smaller amount, we can do it at smaller events. Promoting at small events is also very effective if it is attractively done.
The smaller the amount we have, the more professional personnel we need for the promotion. We should invest only in suitable destinations and activities. If the promotion is done by incompetent staff, it will only result in losses. So the issue now is to improve the quality of tourism promotion personnel.
The promotion has not been methodically due to the lack of uniform guidance from the central to grassroots levels. But we could do effective promotion if each promotional event is well organized. The issue here is the lack of uniform guidance from the central to grassroots levels, so the promotional activities have not been systematic. Localities organize many festivals which masquerade as tourism events. This has made it harder for the tourism sector to focus on products. Many events that are not related to tourism are called tourism activities. Among the hundreds of festivals are those that do not contribute to tourism development.
"In Vietnam, there are many things we need to do but don't. [Building a tourism promotion strategy] is just one example."
VU THE BINH
Many other promotional activities are in the same boat. The professional factor in tourism promotion have not got due attention.
We have advertised on expensive TV channels like CNN and BBC in recent years. Is this really necessary considering our limited funding?
We have limited funds, so we should only do things appropriate to our financial position. People want to build high-rise buildings. Are they necessary if we have enough money only for their foundation? If the work is not done by competent people, we have to reconcile to many impractical factors.
Advertising on costly foreign TV channels will be vital if we have ample money. With limited funds, we should do promotion only in key markets. But we should have competent personnel for that.
You say we lack capable human resources for tourism promotion. What are the reasons for this?
This is a common issue in many sectors, not just tourism. The failure to allocate jobs based on capability is our biggest problem, which causes wastefulness.
Can we raise funds from private sources for tourism promotion?
There are three ways. First is the promotion of the nation as a destination, which is done by the government. Second is the promotion of localities, which is done by local administrations. Third is promotion of tourism products by travel companies.
In other countries, these tasks are clearly delegated. But they are done haphazardly in our country. Sometimes the government promotes tourism products while tour companies introduce the country abroad. This causes disorderliness and wastefulness.
Now that [we have] little money for tourism promotion, we have to look to private sources.
We are using a one-size-fits-all promotion plan for all markets. Won't this make it ineffective?
Yes. In Europe, we can use a tourism product we introduced in China. But the fact is that many people involved in promotion do not understand tourism well. We should leave promotion to professional staff.
You say having a tourism promotion strategy is very important. But we do not have one yet. Why?
In Vietnam, there are many things we need to do but don't. This is just one example.
What should Vietnamese tourism promote abroad?
The first is nature. We have many beautiful natural landscapes. Vietnam is among the countries with the most wonderful tourism natural resources in Asia. Our cultural resources are also attractive. The thing is to combine the [two] to create attractive and unique tourism products.
We are proud of our plentiful natural resources, but worry about the shortage of investment, professionalism, and focus on tourism promotion. As a result our tourism has been unable to develop as well as that of Thailand or Malaysia.
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