Trent, an English teacher in China, visited two neighboring countries during his recent vacation:Vietnam and Thailand.
He plans to visit Thailand again during the coming New Year holiday and skip Vietnam, he recently told a Thanh Nien reporter.
The American teacher is just one of many tourists who opt not to return to Vietnam for a second visit.
Tran Vinh Loc, director of Lac Hong Voyages Company, said Vietnam focuses too much on attracting first-time visitors.
“Vietnam should focus on going after returning tourists by improving the tourism environment, products and services,” he said.
More than 6.6 million international tourists have visited Vietnam, so far this year, an increase of eight percent over last year.
However, according to a recent survey of more than 3,000 local and international tourists visiting five Vietnamese destinations, up to 90 percent were visiting these places for the first time.
Only six percent of international tourists said they were visiting Vietnam for the second time according to the Environmentally and Socially Responsible Tourism Capacity Development Program funded by the European Union.
On average, the tourists only stayed for 1.5-2.5 days in Hue, Sa Pa and Ha Long, and 4.5 days in Danang and Hoi An.
Loc said the low proportion of returning tourists offered a necessary warning.
“This is a very low proportion, compared to Thailand where 13 percent of tourists stay for an average of ten days.”
“About 14 percent of Vietnamese tourists visited Thailand an average of two or three times,” he said. "Each time, they stay an average of seven days."
According to Singapore's tourism board, the city-state attracted 303,000 tourists from Vietnam in the first eight months this year, a 14 percent increase over last year.
A total of 380,000 Vietnamese tourists visited Singapore in 2013, generating US$616,000 in revenues.
Of those visitors, 52 percent were heading to Singapore for the second time.
Little innovation, bothersome vendors
Tourism experts blame the low proportion of returnees on poor tourism products as well as aggressive vendors, beggars and street robbers.
Phan Xuan Anh, director of a HCMC-based tourism company, said Vietnam's aggressive street vendors are nightmares for most tourists.
“Ha Long Bay has been unable to resolve the issue. Sometimes, hawkers stalk tourists in their own boats.”
“The boat owners don't oppose them for fear of revenge. And the hawkers just drop a basket of products onto the tourists' laps until they buy something,” he said.
In downtown Ho Chi Minh City, tourists often have to wait for their bus after visiting each destination due to a lack of parking space, he said.
“They have to wait in the sun or rain and suffer harassment from bag snatchers and aggressive vendors,” he said.
Anh also complained about a lack of entertainment services in the evening and services that vary in price from day to day.
Pham Van Du, director of Xuan Nam Company, said Vietnam has become a destination for new tourists.
“The most popular tourism product we have is sightseeing, which doesn't attract returning tourists. Moreover, most destinations have not been properly protected,” he said.
According to Pham Trung Luong, deputy director of the Vietnam Institute for Tourism Development Research, Vietnam's tourism authorities have limited funds with which to promote the country.
“Thus, Vietnam must focus on returning tourists by developing more products,” he said.