Now that Thailand is going through a prolonged phase of conflict, Vietnam has an opportunity to take its place.
If we looked at the economic and social conditions, Vietnam is in a very strong position to replace Thailand. Vietnamese infrastructure is already in place. We have natural resources to drive our economy and world heritage attractions like the famous Ha Long Bay. When it comes down to hospitality, we have Luxury, mid-range and budget options available to satisfy a wide variety of customer segments from all over the world.
Logically, replacing Thailand’s place in the global tourism industry should be no problem. However, Vietnam is still unable to replace our regional competitor. This drives us to question: Why is Vietnam unable to replace Thailand yet?
To put it succintly, Vietnam’s overall brand experience is poorly constructed. We are unable to beat Thailand because we are not branding Vietnam well from the inside-out.
Since the TVC of a Korean tour operator about Nha Trang came on air, everyone has been complaining about the lack of financial support and creativity in producing TVCs for the Vietnamese tourism industry. However, the hard truth is that Vietnamese tourism’s biggest challenge is not about advertising or promotion. It is the cognitive disconnect between different tourism touch points that fail to attract repeat customers. According to a government source, only around 15% of all visitors return to Vietnam, compared to around 50% for Thailand.
I believe that it is time for new ideas to transform the image of Vietnam to shape a better tourist experience. This new tourist experience will be created using the following solutions:
An innovative customer service experience – From information about places of interests to immigration counters, a more surprising experience is possible if we redesign the process and make it a very welcoming initial experience.
As a standard, visitors are more likely to go back to a destination if the place excites them at various touch points.
Looking at the Philippines, the structure of the tourism website gives tourists a clear overview of beautiful points of exploration in the country. When planning for the trip, tourists can easily find information on points of interests. The tourism website highlighted places of interest in relation to nature & adventure, beaches, lifestyle, culture and water activities, all of which are highly ranked by the tourists from all around the world.
So what can be considered the most ranked attributes of Vietnam? Is it “Timeless Charm”? According to all the best travel stories to Vietnam, the following categories can be possible:
- Culture & heritage
- Live like a local
We can also learn from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. They implemented their ‘Experience the City of Music’ initiative with the focus of going the extra mile to provide a warm welcome and ensuring that the airport reflects the destination of Seattle-Tacoma itself.
In addition to live bands performing inside the terminal, the airport installed music-related exhibitions. The airport also piped in music from the likes of Ray Charles and Nirvana on the overhead speakers and had famous artists read public announcements. Music videos were also featured on the baggage reclaim monitors. While Vietnam’s international airport facilities lack the sophistication of other countries, live bands performing world heritage music such as Đờn Ca Tài Tử, Quan Họ Bắc Ninh near the immigration counters will make tourists feel welcome to the country while truly reflecting Vietnam’s rich heritage culture.
We can also learn from the best welcoming practices of New Zealand. At some of the key provincial gateways to main attractions, such as KwaZulu Natal, Western Cape, tourists are greeted by energetic tourism ambassadors and provided with information packs.A more holistic platform of engagement – Creating an eco-system of vendors, partners, service providers to help people discover the unique gem that is Vietnam.
tripadvisor.com and lonelyplanet.com are among the top reference sites for travelers all around the world. They provide information and traveler reviews about places and service providers. Such web portals are very useful channels, expressing objective information and insights. However, the official tourism website should not be replaced by these external portals. Insider portals still play a very important role in shaping the perception of travelers.
We can definitely transform the current Vietnamese tourism websites (http://www.vietnamtourism.com/ and http://www.timelesscharm.vn/en/home.php) into traveler-centric websites through design and content creation. We should redesign structure and reorganise the content so that tourists can get the information they need easily. As “Hidden Charm” or “Timeless Charm” are the best descriptors of Vietnam, one of the main content sections should be about updates and new experiences of the newly discovered beauty and mysteries of Vietnam from different perspectives.
Website visuals should bring out the vibrant charm of Vietnam by utilising the sophisticated style that Vietnamese arts and handcrafts already possess.
Taking a look at the Philippines tourism website ItsMoreFuninthePhilippines.com, the “It’s more fun” messaging is well relayed in terms of website color scheme, interactive navigation and content planning. It uses very bright colors to immediately capture the attention of site visitors. Interactions are strong and users are directed to new content and images by simply moving their mouse over each square.
Become friends of Vietnam – A membership programme that will turn the world into friends of Vietnam.
A satisfied guest is not only more probable to return and become a loyal customer, but is also more likely to recommend the Vietnam to new guests. It is important to be aware of visitor reviews during and after their service engagement as these reviews influence the purchase decisions of potential visitors during their pre-service period.
Therefore, creating an easy way for tourists to become friends of Vietnam by sharing their pleasant travel stories is absolutely necessary. At the present moment, it is not easy to find a lot of bloggers who write about their trips to Vietnam. However, once you read into those few, you will find that their stories create emotions and a desire to visit and immerse yourself in Vietnam’s charm.
Stories of Vietnamese hospitality, like the following one, are a regular fixture:
“When I was sick in Hoi An, it was the woman who runs the Green Moss restaurant who took it upon herself to get me all better. She prepared ginger tea with honey for me, gifted me with a mint balm to rub on my neck and my chest, urged me to wear a scarf to bed, and then checked up on me daily whenever she saw me cycling around town or eating at her restaurant.” shared by Audrey on Why You Need to Visit Vietnam.
Taking the fact that blogs and travel writers consistently write in-depth pieces about Vietnam, we can also open regular travel writing competitions and photo contests that truly reflect the tagline of “Vietnam: Timeless Charm”.
Time to elevate inherent strengths in cultural resources and natural resources
As a Vietnamese, I truly believe that Vietnam tourism tremendous untapped potential. It is time for us to elevate our inherent strengths found in our culture as well as our natural resources. Using the solutions I suggested above, I believe most of our traveling friends will come to have a good impression of Vietnam, fall in love with the many developing aspects of our country and keep coming back to our beautiful nation.
Pham Thi Thu Hang is the Head of Vietnam, Consulus, a company specialising in helping Asian firms rebrand and redesign their organisations to be more innovative through business design. Pham Thi Thu Hang has served regional Asian companies such as Fast Flow (Asia), Omega Integration (Asia) and Rotating Offshore Solutions (Singapore and Middle-East). To date, she has consulted in Brunei, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Singapore.