Mr. Kenneth Atkinson, Executive Chairman of Grant Thornton Vietnam, tells VET about what lies in store for Vietnam's tourism industry.
■ How do you view the performance of Vietnam’s tourism sector in the first half of the year?
I think in general the performance of the sector was quite good in the first half. Vietnam catered to 40 million domestic visitors and welcomed 3.8 million international arrivals, with the former growing 70.9 per cent, from 23.4 million. The latter, however, fell from 4.3 million to 3.8 million, especially those from China and also from Russia, while the number of arrivals from South Korea increased.
■ Grant Thornton has released a report on hotels, called “Hotel 2020: Welcoming Tomorrow’s Guests” and pointed out the important role of digital apps and smart phone apps. What is their effect on Vietnam’s hospitality industry?
I think the trend is there and it is an inevitable trend. The question is how Vietnam adapts to the trend or move towards the trend. First of all, international hotel management companies have certainly moved to digital. The question is whether local hotel managements companies will also do likewise, because if they don’t they will be left behind. Vietnam has opportunities to take a technological leap because most Vietnamese people, especially in major cities, now have a mobile phone or a laptop. But, of course, the greatest demand comes from foreign visitors. Applying digital is an inevitable trend in the future, and Vietnam should quickly move in this direction.
■ Vietnam has set a target for tourism to become a key economic sector by 2020. How would you care to comment on this?
Tourism is already a key economic sector in Vietnam given its large contribution to GDP. By 2020 Vietnam will achieve its goals, even surpassing Thailand. I think the tourism sector has great potential to develop. Whatever Thailand has, Vietnam also has. It also has many historical sites, heritage sites, and a longer coastline. Tourism infrastructure in Vietnam has improved every year, with family entertainment being built by major corporations such as Vingroup and Sun Group. The tourism sector needs more support from the government and an easing of visa policies. Vietnam should also focus more on environmental factors because there are more and more international visitors coming to Vietnam who look at green standards.
■ Vietnam will join the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) at the end of the year. What is your assessment of the impact the AEC will have on Vietnam's tourism sector?
I think Vietnam is not ready for the AEC because it is still in the discussion process. However, once the AEC comes into being it will have a major impact on the country’s tourism sector. Many people from ASEAN countries will come to Vietnam to study, work, and travel. The AEC will create the conditions for workers in Vietnam’s tourism sector to have the opportunity to learn from other countries and improve their ability, because the fact is that the ability of employees in Vietnam’s tourism sector remains weaker than in other countries in the bloc. The AEC will therefore be a good opportunity for employees in Vietnam’s tourism sector.