Cruise ship arrivals rise amid downturn

February 20, 2009
Cruise tourists arrive at Ho Chi Minh City’s Saigon Port. City-based Saigontourist reported it received 6,000 cruise tourists in the first month of this year, a 30 percent year-on-year increase.

More cruise ships are docking in Vietnam despite the global economic downturn’s tranquilizing effect on the local tourism sector, tour operators said.

Ho Chi Minh City-based Saigontourist reported it received 6,000 cruise tourists in January, a 30 percent year-on-year increase. On January 27 alone, it welcomed 1,600 tourists when two five-star Costa Allegra ships docked at Da Nang Port.

The total number of international arrivals to Vietnam in January fell 12 percent year-on-year to 370,000.

Tan Hong Travel Company in central Da Nang City said it has welcomed nearly 1,000 cruise ship tourists this year and will receive another 550 visitors on two cruise liners in HCMC this weekend. The company also said it is expecting to welcome some 16,000 tourists traveling to Vietnam on 12 cruise ships next month.

The high season for cruise tourism in Vietnam often starts in September and ends in April the next year, but Phan Xuan Anh, a senior consultant at Tan Hong Travel Company, said he was optimistic that there would not be a low season this year.

Always a low season

Despite the cruise tourism market’s high potential for profits, it has been left largely untapped by local tour operators.

Saigontourist and Tan Hong Travel Company currently hold the majority share of the market. Last year the two companies received about 150,000 cruise tourists in Vietnam, or nearly 96 percent of the total number of tourists that visited the country by sea.

As cruise tourists often arrive in groups of over a thousand at a time, travel agencies need to have at least 40-50 tour guides to meet each ship, which most operators said they found impossible.

Vu Duy Vu, Saigontourist deputy director, said his company has to hire part-time tour guides who are teachers at language schools or workers at foreign companies.

Although they are not professional guides, their command of foreign languages has to suffice, Vu said.

But Anh from Tan Hong Travel Company said the solution wasn’t good enough.

As most cruise tourists are wealthy, well-educated and advanced in age, he said, they are often demanding and difficult for unskilled guides to please.

Vu said with more than 3,000 kilometers of coastline and a convenient location, Vietnam has the potential to develop a world-class cruise tourism market.

What the country lacks now is a system of tourism seaports, he said. All cruise ships have to use are aesthetically-devoid cargo seaports.

Conventional tourism wisdom says that though cruise tourists do not stay long, that does not mean they won’t spend a lot of money. But several of Vietnam’s major port areas lack the products and services that they would spend their money on, said Vu.

“Tourists from Hong Kong can’t buy anything in Ha Long if they only find Chinese goods there,” he added.

The Vietnamese tourism sector, which employs more than 10 percent of the nation’s workforce, expects 4.5 million foreign travelers to visit the country this year.

Source: TBKTSG

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