A double-edged sword
The word “cheap” is a powerful word in consumer psychology. However, its meaning is not always the same – or welcome. In the world of tourism services, “cheap” could imply something is good-value, but is it a low or high-quality product? Many affluent travellers may also turn their nose up at a place or product that is deemed “cheap” or suitable for budget travellers.
For many years, Vietnam has been seen as a “cheap” or “budget” destination by the global travel industry, which it increasingly sees as a double-edged sword, especially as the country seeks to elevate the standard of its services and products to offer more and more high-end and high-quality experiences to broaden its appeal as a travel destination.
In 2017, the country was still being touted as a destination for budget travel by the Rough Guides, which ranked Vietnam third out of the top 20 Best Budget Travel Destinations in the world. For many backpackers looking to travel on a shoestring budget this certainly maintained Vietnam’s appeal.
However, for many local companies investing in travel and tourism, the tag has started to rankle, even if it is fair assessment. Vietnam now aspires to showcase that it is also a worthwhile destination for a wealthier travel segment that will generate high and sustainable revenue flows and bring much-added value to the country’s socioeconomic development.
Of course, there is no harm in informing travellers that they can experience great “value for money” in Vietnam. This is not the same as branding a destination as “cheap” or suitable for “budget travellers.” Highlighting that Vietnam can offer value for money means that the country will be competitive when compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. If the country can entice people to come to Vietnam as it provides high-quality, value-for-money experiences, these travellers will in turn spend more for tourism products and services.
It should also be stressed that Vietnam should continue its efforts to streamline lengthy and cumbersome procedures for visa applications in order to make the country an appealing destination – one that people will return to again and again.
Many of the country’s Southeast Asian neighbours, such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, offer more efficient (and free) visa-on-arrival services. This would greatly encourage people to make regular short trips to Vietnam. It is noteworthy that Phu Quoc Island has boosted arrivals since introducing a 30-day visa exemption for all visitors (the visa is only applicable to Phu Quoc). Throughout the country, Vietnam must also continue to develop infrastructure and services to make travel as safe, comfortable, and enjoyable as possible – other factors which will make Vietnam a “repeat destination” in the eyes of regular travellers.
Generally speaking, Vietnam’s tourism, hospitality, and retail industries have made great strides in recent years. The country now boasts many more luxurious resorts and hotels, better-developed tourism services, high-end restaurants, modern shopping malls, and world-class entertainment centres. There is now a very clear new benchmark for quality that has a positive trickle-down effect by encouraging everyone to raise their game to meet the expectations of discerning travellers today.
Making a splash
In recent years, high-end resorts developed by Vietnamese corporations have made a huge splash in the global travel industry. Central Vietnam’s InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort has been honored as the World's Leading Luxury Resort at the World Travel Awards (WTA) for four consecutive years. JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay was named the World’s Best New Resort 2017, just one year after being put into operation.
Both resorts were developed by Sun Group, which has spearheaded an ambitious new approach to the luxury travel industry in Vietnam. Besides introducing world-class accommodations, Sun Group has also invested in state-of-the-art entertainment complexes and theme parks to make some of Vietnam’s most popular destinations much more appealing for tourists.
Sun World Fansipan Legend (Sapa, Lao Cai province), Sun World Halong Complex (Halong city, Quang Ninh province), Sun World Ba Na Hills (Danang), Sun World Danang Wonders (Danang), and Sun World Hon Thom Nature Park (Phu Quoc) have all become hugely popular attractions that not only attract more tourists to the destinations, but have encouraged them to stay longer, generating more revenue.
“In the past six, seven years, Vietnam’s tourism industry has made great progress in terms of attracting tourists and sources of investment, improving infrastructure, developing tourism products and services, and introducing policy changes, all of which have spurred on tourism property development,” said Nguyen Van Tuan, former general director of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism. “The most prominent factor for these accomplishments have been the large-scale projects and high-quality, attractive tourism products developed by top tourism businesses and strategic investors such as Vingroup, Sun Group, Tuan Chau, and Thien Minh Group."
These investment projects have contributed to improving infrastructure and accommodation units, and creating luxury tourism products, that can gradually contribute to the shaping of Vietnam's tourism brand as well as the attractiveness of destinations.”
In other words, they have signalled a significant shift for Vietnam, a country which was once seen as a “cheap” and undeveloped destination, but is now entering a new era for travel and leisure. The country can still offer “value-for-money” but more importantly, in just over a decade, the country has become a far more modern, dynamic, and developed destination that can now more confidently compete with its neighbouring countries.
This amazing transformation – inspired by the strategic investment of corporations such as Sun Group and Vingroup – has only just begun. In coming years, the group will see many more positive changes that will help Vietnam become one of the world’s premier destinations for discerning travellers who seek good-value products and services of the highest quality.