Vietnam has not always done a good job of marketing itself as an international travel destination, but a recently lunched tourism website is aiming to inspire tourists to visit the country. It may also point the way forward for a new model of the public sector leveraging off private sector expertise.
Tourist boats are seen anchored at Halong Bay in northern Vietnam. (HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)
The site, vietnamtourism.vn, is unusual in that it was created and is managed by a non-profit body in cooperation with Vietnam’s government tourism department. The Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) is a collection of industry stakeholders, including major tour operators and hotel and resort brands.
The site, designed by OlgivyOne’s Vietnam office, reads something like a cross between a traditional tourism promotion portal and a glossy travel magazine. There are straight informative pieces and others that are more in-depth articles about travel experiences and destinations. It is a significant departure from the previous official presence of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), the government department charged with promoting tourism in the country, which was a typical departmental site with more information about official goings-on than content that would inspire visitors.
This lending of expertise from the private sector could be a key element in starting to turn around the tourism sector in Vietnam, which is also a vitally important plank in the country’s economy. Vietnam spends a fraction on marketing itself as a tourism destination compared to regional neighbors such as Thailand and Malaysia.
The annual budget provided to Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism for tourism promotion is less than US$2 million, and this is to support an industry that generates nearly 10 percent of GDP. To put this into comparison, the Department of Tourism in Thailand had an annual budget of US$80 million in 2015, while Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture had available a similar amount of US$81.6 million.
The Tourism Advisory Board came into being in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis when international arrivals to Vietnam slumped dramatically. This prompted several key industry stakeholders to come together to propose to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism that they work with the private sector more closely, and so in 2012 the TAB was officially launched.
The TAB’s Vietnamese-American general director, Hawkins Pham, said the group initially focused on policy issues such as visa waiver programs, but later expanded their efforts to encompass the international marketing of the tourism sector. The group now has a formal marketing agreement with the VNAT.
“The collaboration between TAB and VNAT is unprecedented in Vietnam and is exemplary for how public-private partnerships play a role in the tourism industry,” Pham said. “The TAB’s mission is centered on increasing the country’s competitiveness as a destination, and the launch of a best-in-class online marketing platform is a solid step in the right direction.”
Pham said The TAB’s core mission was to increase Vietnam’s competitiveness as a tourism destination and one way to do so was to assist in marketing the country internationally. “The website is aimed at making the country more accessible by providing inspiring information to travelers,” he said. “We chose to prioritize the digital channel because that’s where travelers are - 70% of travelers will use online resources to research and book travel.”
Vietnam has, in a sense, coasted along on its abundance of natural attributes in attracting international travelers. It is a stunningly beautiful country with a rich culture and friendly, welcoming people. But to take the next step, and cement tourism as a key driver of economic growth, a more professional approach is required. This, it seems, is where groups with industry expertise like the TAB can partner with the Vietnamese government to help benefit everyone.