Poor infrastructure keeps Vietnam’s cruise tourism at bay

VietNamNet Bridge – Despite welcoming 500 international cruises each year, Vietnam only hosts around 300,000 tourists from cruises – just 3 per cent of the total number of foreigners visiting the country in a year – and the percentage of tourists visiting by cruise did not grow in 2017.

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A Genting Cruise ship docks at Tien Sa Port in Da Nang City. Vietnam’s ports have been developed to deal with the increasing popularity of cruise tourism in Asia.

Truong Thi Thu Huong from the Viet Nam National Tourism Administration (VNAT) told the Da Nang International Cruise Tourism conference on Thursday that Vietnam, with 45 sea ports, was seen as a top-four cruise destination in the world after Japan, China and Thailand. She said international cruises often dock at two or three ports in Vietnam during their ocean voyages.

Huong said famous cruises including Super Star Virgo, Star Cruise, Costa Victoria and Genting Dream had visited Vietnam.

“We have developed a deep-sea port system for giant cruise ships from 50,000GRT (Gross Tonnage) to 100,000GRT, and six ports – Hòn Gai, Chân Mây, Tiên Sa, Nha Trang, Phú Mỹ and Phú Quốc – were designed to host cruise ships only,” Huong said.

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Tourists arrive at a sea port border gate in central Vietnam. — VNS Photos Cong Thanh

She said poor tourism products and shopping centres as well as insufficient port infrastructure have kept cruise tourism at bay, while connections between ports and mainland destinations have not been cared for by locals.

Ha Bich Lien, an adviser of the Royal Caribbean International Cruise line, said Vietnam should focus on how to build up a system of specialised ports for receiving cruise ships with comprehensive infrastructure and service.

“Việt Nam should think about cruises and ports,” Lien said. “Most ports in Việt Nam could not handle newly developed generations of cruise ships. Cruises with a capacity of 7,600 passengers and crew members have not yet accessed the nation’s ports.”

“Tiên Sa Port in Đà Nẵng, for example, could not offer docking for our big, 562m-long cruise ships,” she said. “Only Hạ Long Port was designed to host cruise ships, while most other ports were built for shared use by cargo and cruise ships.”

Lien said Royal Caribbean is offering to invest in upgrading the Chan May Port so it will be able to accommodate its giant cruise ships.

She suggested that port administrations in Vietnam design a service at ports for tourists staying for a short time.

“About 70 per cent of tourists pay visits to destinations on the mainland after long journeys on board, while the others stay on the ship or walk around the port area for shopping or entertainment,” she said. She suggested adding shopping centres at ports to lure tourists onto shore.

She explained that cruise tourists do not waste time travelling from the port to tourism hubs whenever cruises stop, so they need entertainment or shopping services at the port or on the cruise.

Lien said locals would earn a lot from a cruise with 4,000 passengers as each tourist spends an average of US$100.

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Linh Ung Pagoda in Da Nang is a favourite site of international cruise tourists.

Deputy Director of Da Nang’s tourism department Nguyen Xuan Binh said the city’s port hosted 74 cruise ships carrying 87,000 international tourists in 2018 – 29.9 per cent of the country’s total cruise tourists.

Binh said Da Nang, situated in central Vietnam, has close links to other ports in Asia such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, Japan, Taipei, Singapore and Malaysia, with a range from 550 to 2,300 nautical miles.

Tien Sa Port was a favourite dock for cruises, but a lack of international standard shopping centres and entertainment, duty-free shops and unique souvenirs have limited the city’s ability to boost cruise tourism.

“Đà Nẵng welcomed 6.5 million tourists, of which 2.4 million were foreigners (40 per cent growth), in the first 10 months of 2018, but cruise tourists only accounted 3.76 per cent, spending $80 each,” Binh said.

According to Kamal Ahmed from NV Terminals Group, a port development and engineering firm, Vietnam has the potential to be part of itineraries from Hong Kong to Malaysia on the Straits, with Sanya (China) as a bridging destination.

He said the distances between various ports are larger, but still convenient, and the key factor is the development of port infrastructure.

He added that Vietnam has built a strong brand with multiple UNESCO heritage sites accessible via cruise excursions and well-known cities along the coast.

However, Ahmed said that among challenges to Vietnam’s cruise industry is the country’s reliance on cargo terminals to provide cruise berths.

“Finding suitable locations for dedicated berths is not always easy. The solution in the near future is to mitigate passenger inconveniences when berthing at cargo facilities,” he said.

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Cham Sculpture Museum in Da Nang is the most visited site in central Vietnam after Hoi An and My Son Sanctuary.

“There are no easy answers; each destination must be studied on a case-by-case basis to determine the best solution,” he said. “Once facilities are improved, other challenges such as diversifying source markets, challenging negative sentiments and building new itineraries with cruise lines can be handled at a more tactical level.”

According to Cruise Lines International Association, the number of Vietnamese cruise tourists had increased from 158 passengers in 2012 to 4,100 in 2016.

It said young cruise travelers (under 40 years old) have increased in recent years, and Asia has emerged as the fastest growing cruise market, with the number of tourists rising from 1.5 million in 2013 to 4.26 million in 2018.

Asia has 78 cruise ships out of 314 in the world in 2018.

Source: VNS