Airports hold the key to the region’s continued tourism growth, Michael Taylor writes.

Vietnam has registered three straight years of strong growth in tourism arrivals, up 26 per cent in 2016, 29.1 per cent in 2017, and 19.9 per cent in 2018, the country’s Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism reports.

Vietnam is no longer just one of several stops on a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia. The former French colony is rapidly becoming a tourist destination in its own right.

“Just a few short years ago, when I first arrived in Vietnam, the country was a ‘box tick’ destination for many travelers, with most visiting once without plans to return,” says Pedro Miguel Oliveira Neto – General Manager of Fusion Resort Phu Quoc.

“This has changed as the country’s reputation for bustling, vibrant cities, stunning natural scenery, peaceful beach destinations and gracious Vietnamese hospitality has placed it firmly on the ‘must go’ destination map for the modern traveller, with many now making it their annual get-away destination.”

As Vietnam’s hospitality sector develops, airlines have been adding flights to new destinations, which has been increasing accessibility to more and more parts of the country.

According to the Airports Corporation of Vietnam, the country now has 21 civil airports, including eight international airports with customs and border control facilities. An example is Phu Quoc International Airport, which was completed in 2012. It currently has seasonal and chartered service to such far-off destinations as Britain, Italy, Russia, and Scandinavia.

“Five or six years ago, the island of Phu Quoc was barely known for its pristine beaches and warm hospitality,” Neto says. “Now there are daily direct flights from abroad making it an easily accessible destination for many.”

Ty Collins, general manager, W Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay, says the island is just one of many regions being developed by the Vietnamese government.

“The growth of the luxury hotel sector fuses the development of the hospitality and tourism industries of Vietnam, providing job opportunities, while at the same time grooming a new generation of world-class hoteliers,” Collins says.

“We have a combination of 10 to 15 different key source markets. In addition to domestic travelers from Vietnam, we are seeing an increase of international tourists from Korea, Japan, China, Thailand, as well as tourists from long haul markets like the US, UK, Germany and Russia. Once direct flights are established between Phu Quoc and Malaysia, we expect to see growth in this market as well.”

Patrick Basset, Chief Operating Officer of Upper Southeast and Northeast Asia for Accor, expects Vietnam’s tourism growth to continue to be “highly robust” as the country’s secondary cities gain in popularity.

“Vietnam appeals to different segments due to diverse tourist attractions, leisure activities and food options,” Basset says.

“Destinations such as Nha Trang, Phan Thiet, Cam Ranh, and Sapa are quickly attracting more travellers due to better infrastructure and international flight accessibility, and Accor is looking to open or expand in each of these destinations.”

Thomas B. Meier, Minor Hotels, Senior Vice President Operations – Asia, agrees.

“Vietnam’s growth has been well balanced between developing new destinations for leisure travellers, as well as foreign investment for business and manufacturing by multinational corporations, which has propelled Vietnam’s growth,” Meier says.

“The ever-continuing growth in the airport network and infrastructure across the entire country will help to drive the annual growth in tourism arrivals. The governments’ commitment to grow sustainable tourism is commendable.”

Cambodia

Cambodia has 17 commercial airports, including three international airports serving Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Preah Sihanouk Province in the middle of the country. Traffic at the three airports surpassed the 10 million passenger mark for the first time last year, the Khmer Times reports.

Phnom Penh Airport
Phnom Penh Airport

“Overall, solid traffic at the airports reflects tourism growth in Cambodia, especially, driven by the new attractiveness of the country’s coastal areas, and a buoyant economy conducive to business opportunities,” says Eric Delobel, Cambodia Airports CEO. “The momentum that has been building over the last five years is continuing.”

According to Accor’s Basset, the estimated number of tourists visiting Cambodia during the first half of 2018 increased by a robust 12.7 per cent over the same period the year before.

Laos

Following six years of double-digit growth, tourist arrivals in Laos fell by 10 per cent in 2016 and 8.73 per cent in 2017.

“Based on reports, the number of tourists visiting Laos remained sluggish in 2018 with less than two million arrivals in the first six months of the year,” Basset says.

“Tourism in the country was further impacted by natural disasters and crises last year including heavy flooding and the collapse of the dam in Attapeu resulting in loss of lives and homes.”

Airlines offer flights from Vientiane, the Laotian capital, to several cities in China. There are also flights to Cambodia, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The lack of direct service to other foreign countries, however, is hampering the country’s ability to attract more international tourists, hospitality industry insiders believe.