VIETNAM is playing catch up with big MICE players in the Asean region including Thailand and Singapore, and the numbers are showing.
At the ITE HCMC travel event in Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) revealed that the country is expected to hit a milestone of 8.5 million international visitors – both leisure and business – by year end, equating to US$15 billion in spending.
With much of the country’s economic activity taking place in Ho Chi Minh City, the city is expected to draw in many events and incentive groups parallel with efforts taken by VNAT and other tourism departments to develop infrastructure to support bigger numbers.
“Among the countries of the greater Mekong subregion, the economic center of Ho Chi Minh City is considered one of the more interesting destinations with a lot of potential to develop its MICE industry,” Nguyen Quy Phuong, director of the travel department at VNAT, said at the event.
Presently, 11 percent of the city’s GDP is contributed by tourism, and 17 percent of tourists arrive for business, something which will be capitalized on in the coming years.
An Nguyen, project manager at Outbox Consulting, said that the city has many strengths to draw upon including its location as a transportation intersection. Known as the international gateway of Vietnam, there are currently four domestic airlines and 43 international airlines that operate out of the Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
“With the current design, we welcomed nearly 30 million visitors at the end of 2016. We expect to increase that to 45 million visitors by building extra terminals, runways, and [expanding] the parking area,” An said.
In the city, electric-powered buses will contribute to green traffic, and new hop-on and hop-off bus models as well as water-boat services will be introduced. While the city lacks a well-connected metro system compared with rivals Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, construction is underway and is projected to be complete by 2020.
In terms of accommodation options, Ho Chi Minh City has a total of 50,261 rooms, 19 four-star hotels, and 20 five-star hotels, and it doesn’t hurt that room rates are kept relatively low.
“If you compare with all the cities in the world, it’s actually very cheap. It’s one of our biggest advantages to attract MICE tourists,” An said.
To top it off, infrastructure and exhibition venues are not lacking in the city, including the likes of Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers and Gem Center.
At the former, staff heavily promote off-site street food and attractions to use Ho Chi Minh City’s offerings as a magnet.
“There’s a number of local DMCs that we work with to help with ground transportation and outside events at some of the iconic sites that we have around the city,” Scott Hodgetts, general manager at Sheraton Saigon, said.
“As hotel companies and individuals, we should be working together and not necessarily competitively, to help drive the overall benefit of tourism, and particularly the MICE business.”
With years of practice in leisure tourism, Ho Chi Minh City is experienced in providing customized services and human resources to cater to MICE tourist demands, such as English-proficient staff. At the moment, seven percent of Vietnam’s human resources industry lies in Ho Chi Minh City.
“We have nearly 5,000 tour guides; they are all well-trained with the necessary skills especially in languages,” An said.
While Ho Chi Minh City has an edge over other major Vietnamese cities because of its sophisticated infrastructure, availability of luxury and business hotels, and human resources, Hanoi – the capital of Vietnam – holds many political events pertaining to federal issues, and Da Nang makes use of its coastal setting to host its share of incentive events.
“All three cities combined, Vietnam can [position] itself as a new MICE hub in Asia,” An said.