What changes have you seen in Vietnam’s luxury inbound tourism sector over the last two or three years and what do you think is driving them?
Pham Ha: According to ILTM, only 3-5 per cent of 15 million foreign arrivals to Vietnam last year are luxury travelers. However, our Lux Group enjoyed 30 per cent growth year-on-year.
More international brand hotels and resorts are opening and welcoming greater numbers of leisure travelers. The government has successfully organized key global events, such as the US-North Korea Summit in Hanoi, where it welcomed leaders from different countries, and which helped promote luxury and MICE travel.
Luxury travel is not only about luxury hotels, but also about the whole experience. Vietnam has a lot of new, authentic, and unique experiences for luxury individual and MICE travelers to discover.
The beauty of Vietnam is that it continues to evolve without diluting its cultural heritage, striking that delicate balance between modernity and the past. Many travel analysts say it is now one of the top 10 destinations in Asia, with luxury the fastest-growing segment.
Today’s luxury travelers want to be entertained and stimulated rather than simply pampered, and Vietnam offers a magical mix of tropical beaches, post-colonial charm, a string of World Heritage Sites, stunning scenery, world-renowned cuisine, and a home-grown flair for hospitality.
Luxury travelers seeking authentic experiences will find that Vietnam has many to offer and consequently we are seeing an increase in the numbers of luxury travelers coming to Vietnam.
Do you believe the luxury sector in Vietnam will continue to grow into the future? What factors will help spur this growth?
Pham Ha: Experiential travel is gaining momentum in Vietnam, which encompasses adventure, culture, heritage, spa and wellness, golf, and cruise tourism.
Luxury travelers are increasingly looking beyond conventional leisure programs and itineraries and are actively seeking experiences that deliver a true taste of the local culture. This growing trend is now on the radar of the region’s tourism chiefs as destinations face increased competition for their share of the more traditional travel segments.
The luxury traveler is being tempted by new luxury lodges, resorts, and cruises in Nha Trang, Cat Ba Island, and Danang, as well as new experiences and tours, such as flying to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi by sea plane and helicopter services from Danang to Son Doong Cave or Nha Trang. Son Doong Cave in Quang Binh province is especially popular among adventure travelers.
Vietnam’s tourism infrastructure has improved dramatically, with a rapidly growing list of modern luxury and spa destinations and recently opened golf courses, while the launch of luxury yacht and river cruises ensures stress-free journeys away from busy roads. More airlines now fly to Vietnam, with overall improvements behind the country’s recent growth in popularity, particularly visa waivers for six European countries and e-visa applications making travel to Vietnam so much easier.
Luxury travelers now have the opportunity to cruise around Cat Ba Island and Nha Trang Bay, not just around Ha Long Bay and along the Mekong River. Recognized as the pearl of Vietnam’s south-central coast, Nha Trang has become one of the most famous tourist destinations in the country because of its natural beauty and superb climate, with 300 days of sunshine every year.
What does Vietnam need to do to reach its potential in the luxury market and what hurdles need to be overcome?
Pham Ha: The private sector is being encouraged to invest because of the favorable conditions in the market. Tour operators and investors need to be allowed to create new and varied experiences across a whole range of destinations.
New luxury branded hotels, visa-free requirements for more countries, like our competitors in Thailand and Malaysia already offer, world-class golf courses, greater entertainment options, and better shopping choices will encourage luxury travelers to stay longer and spend more. The traffic situation must be improved, with enhanced and more convenient road connections between destinations.
The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) should establish a Luxury Travel Department and promote Vietnam as a high-end destination, promoting our luxury products through specific campaigns and attendance at important trade shows such as ILTM, LuxExperience and Pure.
In addition, there should be more fam tours for luxury tour operators from the key markets and press trips for journalists from luxury magazines such as TTG Luxury, Travel and Leisure, Departure…Definitely VNAT should embraces with social media of marketing mix and invite more influencers and making more movies will also bring more high-end travelers to Vietnam.
With the recent improvements in the road infrastructure, are there now more opportunities to travel overland in style from north to south or vice versa, and is this a route you predict will become popular with luxury visitors?
Pham Ha: Vietnam is like a funnel for travelers, who arrive in the north and leave the country in the south, or vice versa. Though the road infrastructure has improved a great deal, traveling overland remains inconvenient for most travelers, except for backpackers.
Luxury tour trends seem to be changing. Our records show that luxury travelers are willing to spend more money and time, focusing on single destinations with stays of two or more nights. They research hotels and surrounding areas prior to booking. We have recently had more bookings for one-week stays that take in just Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.
Popular destinations are still Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Minh City. New beach destinations are attracting luxury travelers, like Phu Yen, Con Dao Island, Vung Tau, Phu Quoc Island, and Van Don Island.
Are there any upcoming developments that you think will help drive Vietnam’s luxury tourism sector?
Pham Ha: Following the publicity from the US-North Korea Summit in Hanoi, we expect more MICE and leisure travelers to come to Vietnam. Vietnam Airlines will soon fly direct to the US, where travelers often have both time and money. More luxury cruises and international brand hotels and resorts will open soon. Finally, the infrastructure, not only on land but also at seaports and airports, has been greatly improved.
We are receiving more requests from travelers to remote and unspoilt beach resorts such as Six Senses on Con Dao Island, Nam Nghi or JW Marriot on Phu Quoc Island, Azerai in Can Tho, and Amanoi in Ninh Thuan…
Is there a particularly strong source market for luxury tourism?
Pham Ha: At Lux Group, including Luxury Travel, Emperor Cruises, and Heritage Cruises, we focus on travelers from Europe, the US, Australia, New Zealand, and the rest of Asia. Heritage Cruises is introducing the first boutique cruise on Hanoi’s Red River and in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Our fleet of vessels combine classic elegance with comfort, showcasing the country’s history, art, cuisine and culture. Leonardo da Vinci’s quote captures Heritage Cruises’ vision and philosophy perfectly: “The key principle behind every project is a devotion to simplicity, heritage, exclusiveness, and product authenticity”.
Launching in June 2019, Heritage Cruises will offer authentic experiences for 40 guests aboard an architecturally designed boutique river and ocean cruise ship departing from Haiphong - only 90 minutes from Hanoi. Amenities include two restaurants, a spa, indoor and outdoor lounge, swimming pool and pool bar and 20 suites with picture windows offering ocean views.
And yet it is the total experience - the unique impression derived from the cruises’ combination of quality, quintessence, and ambiance in a spectacular location - that will make cruising with Heritage Cruises unforgettable.