Vietnam becomes popular destination for luxury cruise ships

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 Foreign tourists arrive at Phu Quoc Airport February 6 / PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE

On February 6, French luxury cruise ship Le Soleal left Saigon Port in Ho Chi Minh City with 200 French tourists.

The vessel and its passengers had spent eight days in the country, touring several places from the northern city of Hai Phong to HCMC, before leaving for Singapore.

Le Soleal was one of many luxury cruise ships to visit Vietnam this year, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported Friday.

Saigontourist, one of the country’s leading tour operators, for instance, was contracted to serve over 52,000 tourists and crew members on more than 20 international cruise ships from January 23 to February 15, it reported.

The ships, including Superstar Gemini, Costa Victoria, Azamara, and Celebrity Millennium, docked at ports in Ha Long Bay, the central city of Da Nang, and HCMC, the newspaper quoted a company spokesperson as saying.

Since it is now the peak season for cruise tourism, Vietnamese ports are busy with passenger ships, the spokesperson said.

Tran Chi Cuong, deputy director of the Da Nang Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, told the newspaper that the city expects 66 cruise ships to arrive in the first quarter.

Thirty have already come, he said.

Le Dinh Tuan of travel firm Tan Hong Company’s southern office said his company has signed contracts with many cruise vessels like Seabourn Legend, AIDAaura, Diamond Princess, and Queen Elizabeth.

Phan Xuan Anh, chairman of Viet Excursions, which provided shore services for Le Soleal’s passengers, said it was the first time the five-star cruise ship belonging to Compagnie du Ponan had docked Vietnam.

It would return to Vietnam with more than 100 tourists for a trans-Vietnam tour this month, he said.

High-quality services

Since the passengers arriving by luxury cruise vessels are affluent, they demand quality service, Anh said.

Le Soleal's passengers, for instance, paid at least $1,000 per night for accommodation and asked to be transported by luxury cars like Mercedes, Audi, and BMW, which Viet Excursions rented for at least $500 for a four-hour trip, he said.

According to travel companies executives, cruise-vessel tourists love shopping, buying both luxury and local products.

But since they usually visit many countries during a trip, they are able to compare services and products available at each place, they said, warning that without quality it is difficult to persuade tourists to come back.

Vu Duy Vu, deputy director general of Saigontourist, said local companies need to create new and different products to meet the tourists’ demand.

He said tours to world heritage sites, historic sites, and natural landscapes, Vietnam’s USP, need to be explored.

Tet bonanza

Nguyen Van Thanh, director of the Center for Tourism Information and Promotion in the central province of Khanh Hoa, said during the six days of Tet (Vietnam’s Lunar New Year) this year, from January 31 to February 5, nearly 35,500 foreign tourists visited Nha Trang, a 20 percent rise year-on-year.

Phan Thanh Truc, deputy director of the province's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said they mostly stayed at three- to five-star hotels for at least 10 days and spent a lot of money generally.

The province earned nearly VND290 billion ($13.68 million) from tourism, she told the newspaper.

Phu Quoc island welcomed nearly 2,760 foreign tourists in the first four days of Tet, earning around VND12 billion, Le Minh Hoang, director of the Kien Giang Province Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said.

Between January 31 and February 6 seven ships berthed in Da Nang with 8,700 passengers from Canada, China, France, and the US, up 34 percent year-on-year, Cuong, deputy director of the city Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said.

Another 8,400 came by air, a 62 percent rise from the same period last year, he said.

According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, 722,350 foreign tourists visited the country in January, up 7.5 percent from the previous month and 21 percent year-on-year.

Vietnam received more than 7.5 million foreign tourists last year, a 10.6 percent rise over 2012.

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