Ho Chi Minh City tourism struggling to make breakthrough

SGI

Over the years, Ho Chi Minh City tourism has recorded tremendous growth in terms of both domestic and foreign tourists. However, in reality the City tourism is struggling to make a breakthrough in finding ways to attract more tourists to stay for longer durations, and even make return trips to Vietnam, all for the purpose of increasing tourism revenue.

Ben Thanh Market is a symbol of Ho Chi Minh City but has not yet fully exploited potential advantages. Photo: LONG THANH

Ben Thanh Market is a symbol of Ho Chi Minh City but has not yet fully exploited potential advantages. Photo: LONG THANH

Revenue still behind expectation

According to statistics of the Department of Tourism in Ho Chi Minh City, in the first nine months of 2019, the numbers of international visitors travelling to the City were around 6.2 million, an increase of 14.3% compared to the same period last year. It was expected that Ho Chi Minh City would welcome more than 8.5 million international visitors in 2019, an increase of 14% compared to 2018, accounting to approximately 50% of international visitors arriving in Vietnam. Yet, the statistics did not indicate clearly how much each tourist spent. The figures of 2017 showed the total amount that was spent by international tourists travelling to Ho Chi Minh City was an average of USD 145 per day, compared to USD 133 per day in 2013.  Accordingly, after about four years, the average amount that one international visitor spends per day increased only by USD 12, which is an extremely low figure. This fact indicates that Ho Chi Minh City is lacking in features such as interesting shopping and entertainment destinations for tourists.

For example, Ben Thanh Market which is a famous destination for shopping in Ho Chi Minh City, which most domestic and foreign tourists visit, still lacks interesting and unique souvenirs, and so many goods are even fakes, with traders spiking up prices. Foreign visitors recognize when they are being ripped off, and despite Ben Thanh Market being such a draw, it lacks the charm of being a tourist attraction in the City. Another shopping center regularly visited by tourists is Saigon Square. Similar to Ben Thanh Market, this Center too sells counterfeit and fake goods to foreign visitors and peddles goods at high prices to rip off foreigners. In high-end shopping malls, most of the customers are primarily Vietnamese people while foreign tourists are not interested in going shopping there for lack of diversity of products.

In addition to lack of products in shops, there is also a serious lack of tourist entertainment. Therefore, many tourism businesses participating in conferences on tourism development in Ho Chi Minh City emphasized the need to develop evening economy for tourists such as entertainment at night. Besides Bui Vien Pedestrian Street, most other places are for drinking and Vietnamese tourists are crowding these places more than foreign tourists. Currently, Ho Chi Minh City does not have any remarkable night activity for tourists. There are only luxury bars in high-rise buildings and five star hotels, but not all visitors can go there.

Night markets are considered a “gold mine” in many countries by the tourism industry, but Ho Chi Minh City has not built and developed any proper night market at all. Culinary tourism seems to be Ho Chi Minh City’s great strength because the City offers a lot of unique culinary traditions from around the country. However, in reality, Ho Chi Minh City cannot promote its strength successfully, especially for night time activities. For this reason, it is a pity that tourists are forced to rest early although their demand is to experience more fun in a tourist destination.

According to a study by Ernst & Young (E&Y), the nocturnal industry contributes about 6% of Britain's GDP, with an amount of approximately 66 billion pounds and has simultaneously created more than 1.25 million jobs. In China, sales at many shops on Pedestrian Streets such as Wangfujing, Qianmen, and Xidan have increased by over 50% in just three months after the Beijing Government implemented a series of policies to support business activities in 16 night markets and convenient night stores that are open 24 hours on the ten Streets.

Developing evening economy has gotten the attention of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. He has asked Ministries and State agencies to research and set up development projects. Especially with reference to Ho Chi Minh City which has attracted upto 50% of international tourists compared to other provinces in the country. With this in mind, the evening economy should quickly be prioritized and applied across the City.

As for developing the evening economy, Mr. Phan Dinh Hue, Director of Vong Tron Viet Tourism Company, shared: “The development of the evening economy will inevitably lead to problems related to security and social evils. In my opinion, we need to consider this issue carefully to recognize the tremendous benefits gained from evening economy, so the local authorities can be more active participants to get best results”. 

Ho Chi Minh City needs breakthrough

The weaknesses in Ho Chi Minh City tourism have been discussed many times, and it seems that the tourism industry is struggling hard to find a breakthrough. According to many experts, it is time for the tourism industry of Ho Chi Minh City to stop following movements and strictly invest in local tourist products. Products are not required in large numbers but they must have a strong cultural identity of their own. If a tourist destination has lots of interesting experiences to offer, tourists will stay longer, and continue coming back and also recommend the place to other travelers as well.

Along with tourism products, a safe and friendly environment is extremely important to travelers. However, problems such as bag snatching, ripping off tourists with high prices, and taxi drivers overcharging still take place in Ho Chi Minh City. According to a report of the City Department of Tourism, in the first nine months of 2019, Ho Chi Minh security forces received and resolved 3,661 situations in which taxis, cyclos, street vendors and beggars’ harassed tourists. This figure was a decrease of 3,173 cases compared to the same period in 2018. Nonetheless, foreign tourists continue to be harassed more and more. These cases cannot be solved successfully by the tourism industry alone, and a lack of consultation and coordination among government agencies and districts can be a major reason for tourists to hesitate choosing Ho Chi Minh City as their next potential tourist destination.

Hopefully, in the strategy to develop tourism in Ho Chi Minh City, with vision until 2030, the tourism industry finds clear breakthroughs in product development if it wants to attract more domestic and foreign tourists. The tourism industry is a key sector for the economy of the City, and in developing the tourism industry varied experiences and ideas can be incorporated from many countries around the world to improve both products and services to offer more international quality standards for tourists visiting Ho Chi Minh City.

Translated by Thúy Hằng

Thanh Lâm

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