According to Savills, Vietnam is one of the fastest growing tourism destinations in Southeast Asia, driven by the entrance of international hoteliers, an improved visa policy and investment in key infrastructure. Vietnam was listed by UNWTO as one of the top five ASEAN countries in terms of highest international visitor volume with approximately eight million arrivals.
Boasting a tropical climate and seemingly endless stunning beaches, the coastal regions are the primary destinations for Vietnam’s international visitors. In the last decade, more than 70 per cent of international visitors spent their holidays along the coast. Most visitors to Vietnam hail from the temperate climates of the USA, Europe, Russia and China.
Coastal cities in the south and centre which are blessed with year-round clement weather were the most favoured by these groups. From 2010 to 2015, Danang, Khanh Hoa and Phu Quoc saw a significant rise in tourism at around 23 per cent per annum, accounting for 30 per cent of the country’s international arrivals.
High season tourism
Following Vietnam’s lunar new year holiday, the four-day holiday to celebrate Reunification Day and May Day proved a popular occasion for Vietnamese to enjoy a relaxing vacation with their families. According to statistics from travel agencies, the number of tourists travelling on this holiday increased at least 20 per cent compared to the same period last year.
During the holiday, travel company Vietravel provided tour packages for nearly 24,000 guests, an increase of 20 per cent over 2015. The main destinations included Phu Quoc, Phan Thiet, Ninh Chu, Dalat, Nha Trang, the Mekong Delta, Hoi An and Hue. The Hanoi Red Tour attracted around 4,000 tourists. Fiditour saw significant growth of 26 per cent over the same period last year for both the foreign and domestic tourist markets. Vietrantour also provided services to over 10,000 guests, including their popular sea and island tours to Nha Trang, Phu Quoc and Con Dao in the south, Danang in the centre, and Co To and Quan Lan islands in the north. Vinpearlland Nha Trang, Vinpearlland Phu Quoc, Bana Hills Danang, Vinpearl Halong and Fansipan peak cable system also attracted a large number of families. In the north, people flocked to beach destinations including Cat Ba, Do Son, Sam Son and Halong bay.
However, the picture was less bright in the four central coast provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue.
For Vietnam’s four-day holiday many people had booked tours to beaches in Quang Binh and Thua Thien Hue provinces, which border the province of Ha Tinh where dead fish first began washing up on the beaches. Approximately 80 tonnes of fish have been reported dead with no clear cause along the four central coast provinces from Ha Tinh to Thua Thien Hue since April 6.
Businesses on well-known beaches of the four provinces experienced a sharp reduction in visitor numbers during the holidays of Reunification Day and May Day. Seafood restaurants that are normally crowded with customers at that time stood empty and seafood markets were deserted. While other tourist destinations in the north and south of Vietnam were crowded with both international and local tourists, travel agencies in the affected region received many cancellations.
“We don’t organise many tours in the central coast area so we have not really been affected. However, many travel agencies have complained that they have received numerous cancellations for trips to these provinces. I witnessed many agencies advertising rooms at reduced rates due to lack of customers during the holiday,” said Trinh Dinh Minh, marketing manager of PYS Travel.
“My family still went on our four-day tour to Quang Binh as planned but we choose to enjoy the landscapes at Phong Nha- Ke Bang national park, Nuoc Mooc spring and Thien Duong cave rather than Nhat Le beach as originally planned,” said Thien Huong, a tourist from Hanoi.
Vistors to Hue city tend to be most attracted to the heritage sites including the ancient citadel, royal tombs and pagodas, as well as Festival Hue 2016’s colourful cultural and art events, therefore tourist numbers saw little change as a result of the sea crisis.
From April 28, the government banned the sale and distribution of non-living aquatic products in the Central Region. The ban was set to address fears of a health threat along 200 km (124 miles) of the coast and from 20 miles offshore from inland Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue provinces. The ban will remain in place until scientists find a conclusive explanation for the mass fish deaths. The government also issued an order for disposal until all fish are verified safe to eat. Hundreds of international and Vietnamese scientists have been working along the coastline, conducting tests of seawater, seabeds, sea sediment, and deceased wild fish, farmed fish and other sea creatures.
Local authorities in the affected provinces have received many complaints from travel agencies regarding their slow reactions in terms of calming the public response to the sea crisis. “Four central provinces reacted tardily, while Danang quickly announced the quality of its seawater to the public and travel agencies. The PR activities of the Danang authorities, including images of its leaders swimming in the sea, have helped to restore public confidence. Tourism in the coastal city, in fact, has barely suffered compared to the other four provinces,” said Trinh Dinh Minh.
Vietnam hopes to welcome around 8.5 million international tourists this year, an increase of 6 per cent over last year. However, this number seems unlikely to be realised while the crisis remains unsolved.