Number of foreign visitors rises in first quarter

 Nearly 1.5 million foreigners visited Viet Nam in the first quarter of this year, a year-on-year increase of nearly 12 per cent, the General Statistics Office said.

Of the figure, 271,500 people came to visit relatives and friends, an increase of 59.7 per cent over the same quarter last year.

The number of foreign visitors coming for a holiday was 894,000, up 5.5 per cent compared with same period last year,

Foreign visitors on an ecological tour to southern Tien Giang Province. Foreign holidaymakers visiting Viet Nam in the first quarter of this year increased nearly 12 per cent compared with the same period last year to almost 1.5 million.

During the first three months, the number of foreigners arriving for business purposes was down by 6.2 per cent to 249,200.

Explaining the first quarter figures, Society of Travel Agents chairman Vu The Binh said many people came to visit relatives during Tet (lunar new year) and the many festivals in the first two months.

Also, foreign media had shown programmes on Viet Nam tourism which had influenced travellers' choice of destination, he said.

Road transport was used most in the first quarter with 232,000 travellers, down 8 per cent; 1.2 million used air transport, up by 16.5 per cent; 12,700 travelled by sea, up by 5.8 per cent.

Nationalities visiting also showed an increase. There were 288,000 Chinese visitors, a year-on-year increase of 26.4 per cent; 144,000 South Koreans, up 8.2 per cent; 136,200 Japanese, up 23 per cent.

This year, the industry expects 5.3 million foreign visitors and 30 million domestic travellers to generate a revenue of VND110 trillion (US$5.2 billion).

Fewer bookings

Travel companies are seeing fewer booking because of natural disasters and political crises in key tourism markets and soaring costs, Thoi Bao Kinh Te Sai Gon (Saigon Economic Times) has reported.

In the first quarter of this year, the country's tourism was influenced by political crises in several North African and Middle Eastern countries and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, causing the cancellation of a series of tours to the region.

However, it was the devaluation of Viet Nam dong in comparision with the US dollar that had caused the sharp rise in tour prices, giving travel companies a headache.

Even the hotel sector, which had gained more revenue from the higher exchange rate, did not have an optimistic view, the paper said.

Dang Huy Hai, deputy general manager of New World Hotel, said although the hotel's turnover had increased due to the hike in the exchange rate, profits had not risen because operation costs had soared.

"The level of increasing expenditure may be bigger than the gains from the rise in the dollar exchange rate."

A new price level has been established in the market. According to members of the HCM City Tourism Association, the price of food and services has increased by 20-30 per cent, accommodation by 15 per cent, transportation by 40-60 per cent, which have increased the price of domestic tours by 15-20 per cent and inbound tours by 5 per cent.

Airfares are expected to rise by 20 per cent in the near future.

"Travel companies have reported a situation that is not very bright," Nguyen Thi Khanh, deputy chairwoman of the association, said.

"The number of travellers for the holidays on the occasion of the Victory Day (April 30) is lower than that of last year."

The director of a travel company in HCM City said the company would cut profits to offer cheaper tours, and use reserve funds to help employees "confront the price storm".

Viet Nam tourism has been struggling with difficulties caused by the global economic crises in mid-2008 and in 2009.

But it is now faced with more imminent problems.

Recently, programmes to support travel companies selling their products failed to reach expectations.

La Quoc Khanh, deputy director of the HCM City Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said the country's tourism sector would have a more challenging year in 2011.

"We have discussed with Vietnam Airlines having a cooperation between the airlines and travel companies. But the flyer itself has difficulties," Khanh said, adding that they had not reached any agreement so far.

The association, which has 124 members, has asked the tax sector to cut value-added tax by 50 per cent and corporate income tax by 30 per cent.

They have also requested that travel companies be allowed to pay taxes two quarters late to help travel companies overcome recent difficulties.

The proposal is similar to the support of the tourism sector from the demand-stimulation programme in 2009.

AFP VNA

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