Big tourism plan needs further study

16-Oct-2018 Intellasia | | 6:00 AM Print This Post

The transport sector needs further study to turn its plan to open new air routes for tourism development into reality.

According to the transport ministry’s blueprint for the “Plan to increase air connection with source tourism markets” presented to the government, four Vietnamese air carriers are operating more than 50 domestic routes. Last year, they transported 31.87 million passengers, rising 11.8 percent from a year earlier.

The international air market has the participation of 71 foreign airlines and three Vietnamese air carriers, with more than 100 air routes linking six domestic airports (Noi Bai, Cat Bi, Danang, Cam Ranh, Tan Son Nhat and Phu Quoc) with 28 countries and territories. The number of passengers on these routes reached 30.27 million in 2017, up 27.9 percent from the previous year. Most flights are converged on Hanoi and HCM City. HCM City handles more flights, which account for over one-third of the total transport volume. Nearly 60 percent of the international air market share is held by foreign airlines.

Given the plan to increase air connection with source tourism markets, the transport ministry expects to open new air routes and increase the flight frequency on routes linking Vietnam with major tourism markets, including China, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, France, the UK, Russia, Australia, the US and India. It also plans to open domestic routes to major tourist areas in the northeast region, heritage sites in Central Vietnam, the south central coast, the Central Highlands, the Mekong Delta and Phu Quoc Island.

The plan identifies China as the market with the most air connections with Vietnam. By 2020, new air routes will be opened to connect international airports and airports in Hanoi, HCM City, Danang, Hai Phong, Quang Ninh, Khanh Hoa, Kien Giang and Lam Dong with 17 localities in China. Flights on existing routes between the two countries will also be increased.

By 2025, air carriers will open routes between international airports and domestic airports allowed to handle international flights in Can Tho, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen and Quang Binh with destinations in China.

The transport ministry also has plans for other markets. It has discussed with Japan agreements for services to Haneda Airport in Tokyo. Many routes between Danang and Khanh Hoa and Tokyo and Osaka, as well as those between Hai Phong, Quang Ninh, Can Tho, Lam Dong, Hue, Kien Giang and Binh Dinh and destinations in Japan will also be opened.

Vietnam Airlines is expected to operate non-stop flights to the US in 2020 with the destination in the West Coast, probably Los Angeles or San Francisco. Other air carriers will operate services between Vietnam and the US by 2025.

Not easy cake

To explain the reasons for opening new air routes and increasing flight frequencies, the transport ministry states in its blueprint figures on the aircraft handling capacity of airports, its expectation for the tourism market, the transport capacity of air carriers and the local tourism potential. The ministry also proposed some promotion programmes for the new air routes.

Many travel agencies said that air connection is one of the prerequisites for tourism market development. Neighbouring countries like Thailand have attracted many tourists thanks partly to favourable air transport. Indonesia has numerous islands, but Bali receives the most tourists due partly to easy air connection.

However, apart from favourable air connection, it needs other conditions for tourism market development, such as transport infrastructure, service facilities, prices and especially the attraction of tourist destinations. A case in point is Phu Quoc. The tourist island has favourable air transport, and attractive tourist resources to westerners. However, travel agencies cannot boost sales due to high service prices. “Prices of services in Phu Quoc are some 30 percent, and some times 40 percent, higher than those in other tourist destinations; so it’s tough to sell tours to Phu Quoc despite high demand,” said Bui Viet Thuy Tien, managing director of Asian Trails.

By providing this example, Tien noted that to attract more tourists and develop new markets, it needs all-out improvement in facilities, services and prices. In addition, new air route opening must be supported by transport connection between airports and the city downtown or tourist spots. A concrete example is traffic congestion on the way to Tan Son Nhat Airport in HCM City. The situation may worsen with the opening of more air routes, and it’s unlikely to attract more tourists. In some localities, the airport is far from the city centre. If transport connection is poor, it may take one or two hours to travel from the airport to the destination, which would also discourage tourists.

Ngo Minh Duc, chair of HG Group, shared Tien’s remark. He said the tourism industry is having problems with air transport. Many tourist destinations have few air routes, especially international routes, and high airfares, but the problem cannot be solved with the massive opening of new routes. The opening of air routes and the connection with some market must be based on the actual demand and supply balance in the tourist destination. What authorities should do first is to improve services and promotion to make the destination attractive and create the travel demand for customers. Tourism firms will take action when they realise the potential of market opening. “Of course, the general plan is necessary, but it’s not certain that many new effective air routes could be opened within several years as expected. If demand is really big, businesses will open new routes soon,” said Duc.

According to him, to assist tourist destinations where demand is not big enough, authorities should support travel firms and air carriers, create travel demand and bring tourists there by chartered flights to gradually develop a frequent route. Some foreign airport operators are offering preferences like free takeoffs and landings to encourage Vietnamese carriers to open routes to their airports. “This is also a good marketing tactic they should learn,” Duc said.

Some travel firms also cautioned about prudent evaluation of the market size, as it’s not certain to attract tourists from big markets to Vietnam when there are new air routes to those markets. In many cases, new air route opening may fail as tourists from those markets do not have high demand for travel to Vietnam or travel businesses have yet to penetrate the markets deeply.

For example, Europe is a big but saturated tourist market, so it’s hard to make a significant change in the market trend. With China, currently the biggest tourist market, there are 500 flights to transport Chinese tourists to Vietnam each week, but most are chartered flights run by Chinese businesses. They have customers and determine their destinations. Therefore, it’s not certain that there would be enough tourists for new air routes to those destinations if Vietnamese travel firms fail to approach the market effectively. Meanwhile, spending for new air routes would unnecessarily increase public investment in air transport infrastructure.


Category: Economy, Vietnam

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