VietNamNet Bridge – Viet Nam's status as Southeast Asia's fastest growing tourism destination is reflected in new statistics that show Australian visitors are flocking to the country like never before.
The Australians have cultivated a reputation for being voracious travellers, but traditionally, they have looked to Indonesia – particularly Bali – Fiji and Thailand when making plans to explore other parts of the Asia-Pacific region.
While these locations are still very popular, data from some of Viet Nam's top hotels, as well as Viet Nam's National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), the country's tourism authority, show that growing numbers are choosing to spend their vacation in Viet Nam.
HCM City's iconic Caravelle Hotel has seen a twofold increase in visitors from Australia this year while the Sofitel Legend Metropole Ha Noi, perhaps the capital city's most prestigious address, has reported a 48 per cent rise over the past 12 months.
On the fledgling central coast, the award-winning The Nam Hai resort has also witnessed a significant upsurge in visitors from Down Under. The property, recently voted among Asia's 20 best resorts by readers of travel bible Conde Nast Traveler, reported a 69 per cent increase in Australian occupants through the first eight months of the year.
VNAT has reported a 128 per cent rise in Australian visitor numbers in 2010 – the greatest percentage increase of inbound arrivals from non-Asian countries.
The trend looks as though it will sustain for the foreseeable future. The results of the Asia-Pacific Travel Intentions Survey, a poll conducted by Visa and the Pacific-Asia Travel Association, showed that an impressive 16 per cent of Australians prepared plans to visit Viet Nam in the coming two years.
"Australia escaped the worst of the global downturn and its dollar is relatively robust, which means the Aussies are travelling as much as they have ever done," said Kai Speth, general manager of the Metropole Ha Noi.
"What's more, Australia has been one of our priority markets in recent years. We have representation at all the big travel trade shows there and I think it's fair to say that our efforts in marketing the hotel are really starting to reap rewards."
John Gardner, the Caravelle's general manager, agreed that an increased focus on the Australian market has paid dividends. He also believed that Viet Nam is finally beginning to rival traditional regional heavyweights such as Thailand and Indonesia in the eyes of holidaymakers.
"Thailand is beginning to recover after the recent turmoil," Gardner said. "But throughout that stumble, and troubles elsewhere, Viet Nam has sharpened its profile as the region's most safe and secure destination. Safety and security is far more top of mind for travellers today than it was 10 long years ago."
Gardner also pointed to other factors boosting the country's reputation Down Under – its solidifying infrastructure and its value for money.
"As well, Viet Nam is catering to a wide variety of customers from business visitors to traditional sun-seekers who are steering toward an array of resorts opening throughout the country."
Also significant in the opinion of travel industry insiders is the improvement in air links between Viet Nam and Australia. Low-cost carrier Jetstar operates regular flights between HCM City and Australia's major conurbations, while competition between other airlines means that travelling to Viet Nam has never been more cost effective.
"I think Australian interest in Viet Nam has grown for a number of reasons," said Damien Van Eyk, Australasian Sales Manager for Exotissimo Travel, a company that specialises in individually tailored trips within Southeast Asia. "The country's relative proximity to Australia makes travelling to Viet Nam very easy.
"I also think that word of mouth is a very important factor. As more Australians experience the sights, sounds and cuisine of Viet Nam, they come home and share these experiences with their family and friends."
VietNamNet/Viet Nam News