Vietnam's tourism brass blew slim budget on TV ads

By Nguyen Tran Tam, Thanh Nien News

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Vietnam's promotional booth at international fairs is often empty. Photo: Tran Tam Vietnam's promotional booth at international fairs is often empty. Photo: Tran Tam

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Vietnam's tourism authorities have blown their limited promotional budget on television programs at a time when experts say the country needs current, up-to-date online resources.
The country spent nearly US$300,000 to promote travel on CNN in 2007 and $450,000 in 2009 for a BBC ad campaign.
In 2011, about $150,000 went to promoting beach tourism on BBC and last year, Ninh Binh Province spent VND7 billion ($329,000) to promote the Trang An Tourism Complex on CNN.
According to a survey released Thurday at a conference on sustainable tourism development, the internet is the primary channel foreign travelers use to research and learn about Vietnam as a destination.
Nearly 60 percent of international tourists opted to rely on the internet while only 2.8 percent learned about travel to Vietnam through television.
Waste on limited budget
Despite the findings, the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) recently hired the BBC to produce more TV programs.
Unofficial information showed that it would cost about $300,000 to make and broadcast a short program about travel to Vietnam in 2015.
In September, CNN finished shooting a similar program for VND4.7 billion.
Experts say television is no longer an effective channel for promoting tourism and VNAT's limited promotional budget, VND30-40 billion per year, would have been better invested online.
Robert Tan, a tourism expert in Singapore, said he could not understand why VNAT chose BBC Asia Pacific to broadcast its ad campaign.
“It’s not the target market for Vietnam,” he said. “Even Thailand, Malaysia, etc. did not chose BBC or CNN but other channels like Discovery, National Geographic or sports and movie channels.”
The forgotten Internet
Many experts said other countries in the region have successfully exploited the Internet, especially social media, to promote tourism.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand has a Facebook page with tens of thousands of followers in addition to a Twitter feed that provides a constant stream of information, pictures and videos about destinations throughout the country.
Information about travel to Malaysia is also abundantly available through Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, WebTV and YouTube.
To promote Singapore as a destination to outbound Vietnamese travelers, the city state hired a famous local Emcee to participate in clips that went viral on social media networks.
Meanwhile, a VNAT Facebook page plastered with the ambiguous slogan “Vietnam – the Endless Charm” only contains a few pictures and was last updated two years ago.
Kai Partale, a tourism specialist at the European Union-funded Environmentally and Socially Responsible Tourism Capacity Development Program in Vietnam, said VNAT should have sought to promote the country through the internet.
Phan Dinh Hue, a HCMC-based tourism expert, said VNAT should use its limited budget to promote tourism effectively and not wastefully.
"It's too bad that local tourism websites are not providing necessary information for tourists,” he said.
“The tourism authorities seem to assign the whole promotional task to some television channel. It takes a lot more work to create and maintain a useful website or social media page.”

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