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Vietnam reaffirms itself as safe, friendly and attractive for visitors

Tensions with its Chinese neighbour over islands located on the East Vietnam Sea (South China Sea viewed from the other side) spread rumours that Vietnam is not safe for travellers. A massive media fam trip and a giant press conference organized by Vietnam Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism as well as Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs want to prove the opposite…

HANOI – “Do you feel scared?” asked a young Vietnamese journalist to a couple of foreign reporters present in Hanoi for a press conference promoting Vietnam as a safe, friendly and attractive destination for tourists. The question sounds rather surprising. Hanoi has its usual face: the flows of motorbikes is endless, old ladies carry heavy bags with food in the famous Old Quarter, youngsters are gathering at coffee shops while in the evening young couples try to get a romantic time around Hoan Kien Lake. 
But it seems that the political tensions with China –which degenerated a few weeks ago with demonstrations and violences against Chinese businesses in Vietnam- have spread the rumour that Vietnam is not safe for visitors. “These rumours are totally improper. They are no hostility towards Chinese tourists”, explained at the press conference Nguyen Manh Cuong, Vice Chairman of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism. “We have so far seen a growth of 37% of Chinese tourist arrivals since the beginning of the year. However, we experience declines in May and June, respectively by 11% and 30%”, he said. Chinese are easily to be scared while China government tacitly also advise travel agencies not to book a country which is seen as a “problem”. “Lots of frequencies from Chinese carriers have been cancelled. From 19 flights a week, we saw 14 frequencies being cancelled”, indicated Nguyen Manh Cuong. 
Vietnam is now trying to reestablish flight connections as it still sees China as an important source of visitors and revenues for its tourism. Chinese arrivals last year reached a new high of 1.9 million visitors, representing 25% of all arrivals. During the first six months of 2014, total Chinese arrivals already topped 1.1 million. “We continue in fact to participate to all travel shows in China”, told the vice chairman of VNAT. 
Vietnam wants now to convey the message that it is not only safe but also offers high quality standards. “We made tremendous progress over the last decade although we must continue to stress that a high quality product is of utmost importance for travellers who are more demanding and want reliability”, said Ho Anh Tuan, Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism. 
International-standard hotels are now spreading all across the country, new highways are in developments, new airports recently opened, new tour guides have been trained while visas on arrival can be obtained more easily.  “We also offer now assistance to foreign travellers who could be victims of scams of troubles during their stay. We are now building up a support centre for travellers and will put in place a hotline as soon as possible. Meanwhile, punishment is now exemplary for people cheating on travellers . Recently a taxi driver who used to scam tourists has been condemned to eight months in jail”, added the Deputy Minister. 
Vietnam will also have to improve its marketing efforts to become more attractive. Many places continue to be ignored by travellers due to a lack of promotion. “We now have a promotional budget of US$ 1 to 2 million for our marketing initiatives. However, as our government is increasingly aware of the benefits of tourism for the economy, we are now requesting a higher budget. And we hope that we will be satisfied”, said Nguyen Manh Cuong. Local authorities as well as private companies are welcome to contribute and coordinate with VNAT marketing strategies.
Vietnam already succeeded over the last decade to position itself on foreign markets, receiving many awards with Hanoi being named one of the best city in the world while Halong Bay was recognized as one of the world’s most beautiful ecotourism destinations. With the province of Trang An recently admitted on UNESCO World Heritage list, Vietnaam is likely to gain more exposure worldwide. VNAT targets for 2014 remain ambitious: 8.2 million foreign visitors are expected –comapred to 7.52 million last year- and 37.5 million of domestic visitors – compared to 32.5 million in 2013. Revenus for the six first months of the year are up by 22% to 125,000 billion of Dongs.

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Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.