“The average tourist wants to go to places where there are no tourists.”
Indian tourists seem to whole-heartedly comply with Sam Ewing’s words. The globe-trotter Indian is increasingly going out to the world, exploring newer destinations, moving beyond the conventional charms of Europe and neighboring South-Asian countries to quench his thirst for unparalleled experience.
Shibani Phadkar, Senior Vice President & Head - Leisure Travel (Outbound) Products, Contracting, Operations & Tour Management, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd. Agrees with this when she says, “The new-age Indian traveler’s “Bucket List” is a diverse combination of engaging experiences and experimental off-beat journeys.”
Apart from Australia, New Zealand and South American nations which have gained a strong foothold in Indian outbound market, Vietnam is another name which is quickly emerging as a favored destination in this category.
Vietnam, a vibrant emerging destination, is trending with a range of segments including the honeymoon- romance segment. According to the data forwarded to us by official tourism body of Vietnam, a total of 7.5 million international tourists visited Vietnam in 2013 which included an estimated 10,000 Indian tourists.
Padhkar tells us, “Vietnam is a yet unexplored, yet affordable South East Asian destination, waiting to be discovered by the intrepid Indian traveler- its diversity holding much allure- from its spectacular islands and beaches, the unique natural beauty of its UNESCO World Heritage Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, the serene Mekong Delta and its floating markets, its majestic architecture and its war museums, culture-cuisine, the renowned cruise port of Halong Bay, the cosmopolitan vibe of Ho Chi Minh & Saigon and of course its famed shopping.”
Recently, an international media delegation which included representative from Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, Russia, France, Italy and Germany visited Vietnam for a trip to explore the country’s tourism potential. The group made a tour around the southern political and economic hub-Ho Chi Minh City to explore its famous destinations such as Ben Thanh market, the municipal Post Office, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and go on a cruise along Sai Gon River. They will also visit several tourism sites in Mekong Delta Tien Giang province.
The country has been carrying out the campaign “Exciting Vietnam: Vietnam – A safe, friendly and attractive destination” to further national tourism development.
In the particular context of India, Vietnam National Authority of Tourism VNAT’s General Director Nguyen Van Tuan recently met Indian Ambassador to the nation, Ms Preeti Saran and discussed the possibility of promoting Vietnam in Indian market.
According to Vikram Malhi, Managing Director, Expedia Asia, “There has been an increasing interest in travel to Vietnam, as an offbeat destination. The country has a lot of potential to become one of the leading offbeat destination, as it offers the specific advantage of proximity as well as an elaborate travel experience. The country is already picking up well and we have witnessed an increase of 46% bookings for the country over the last year, being a smaller base. As a region we see good numbers getting to Vietnam from APAC and also US / Europe as the destination provides a contrast of culture and architecture that enthralls tourists. Off late evolved Indian travelers have also latched on to this destination for unique experiences that it offers.”
Owing to the demand, there are a number of tour operators who have specifically designed packages for luxury tours to Vietnam. Thomas Cook India offers Personalised Holidays’ FIT traveller and the discerning HNI-UHNI of its luxury brand “Indulgence” which offers great value (at Rs. 25,000 per person approximately twin sharing land component), choc a bloc with off-beat experiences like night fishing at Halong Bay, swimming in the Luon caves, sand sledding at Mui Ne, street shopping in Hanoi and others.
Mr. Malhi on behalf of Expedia India, also shares the enthusiasm, “we as a brand ensure that through the year we run discounts for hotels / destinations in Vietnam to boost this trend further.”
However, there are certain issues which have sabotaged Vietnam’s popularity among Indian travelers. According to John H. Ruolngul, Head of Chancery, Embassy of India, Hanoi, “Despite Vietnam being an important strategic partner of India and our extremely good political, cultural, commercial relations, most Indians are unaware about present-day Vietnam and this is a major reason why Vietnam is not usually considered as a tourist destination by Indians.”
In the recently held meeting with VNAT’s General Director, Indian Ambassador Ms. Preeti Saran underlined that weak promotional activities and lack of direct flights were the key factors which held back Vietnam from becoming a popular destination among Indians.
While talking to India Tourism Review, Mr. Ruolngul informed that in order to counter this lack of knowledge and attract more Indian tourists, VNAT is planning a familiarization tour of Vietnam for Indian tour operators and journalists sometime around October this year which will coincide with a series of seminars where Vietnamese stakeholders in tourism would discuss and be briefed on the services aimed basically at the Indian tourist, among others.
VNAT is also planning a series of roadshows in India next year to highlight its attractions as the next great tourist destination for Indians.
In order to resolve the problem of connectivity between India and Vietnam an Air Services Agreement between the two countries was signed during the State Visit of Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong to India in November last year under which Jet Airways and SpiceJet from India and Vietnam Airlines from Vietnam are the designated airlines.
The good news is that Jet Airways and Vietnam Airlines have recently concluded a code-sharing agreement and Jet Airways will be starting a flight from Delhi/Mumbai to HCM City and back via Bangkok from 5 November.
Speaking on this development, the Head of Chancery said, “While we welcome this arrangement, we continue to press for a direct flight with both Vietnam Airlines and Jet Airways/SpiceJet.”
When asked to comment on this news, Mr. Malhi said, “The key challenge that limits the traffic to Vietnam is the connectivity from Indian cities besides the metros. A step has already been taken in this direction with Jet Airways, launching its flights to Ho Chi Minh city. We are hoping more such efforts to increase the accessibility to the destination and capacity on routes to Vietnam.”
The most popular cities amongst the Indians include:
Huế, the destination for culture vultures, with a host of temples, tombs, pagodas and crumbling palaces to admire and explore. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Huế is home to the Citadel, once the emperor's private residence, and the Forbidden Purple City.
Halong Bay, to sail among the jagged rocks of over 2000 islands in the Gulf of Tonkin at Halong, which translates as 'where the dragon descends in to the sea'.
Ho Chi Minh, the business capital that also provides a sneak peek into history and remnants of the war.
Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital that houses the Temple of Literature and One Pillar Pagoda.
Hoi An, the food capital that offers gastronomical delights right at the streets, and half day courses in cooking as well.