Hoang Tuan Anh, minister of Culture, Sport and Tourism, told the Daily on Saturday that the country's tourism would not obtain the goal now that only over three million foreign visitors had arrived in the first eight months of 2008.

"We just have four months left, and I think that the country's tourism will have only around 4.6 million international arrivals in 2008,' he said.

This is the first time since the outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003 that the tourism sector will fail to realise the annual target.

A report from the National Administration of Tourism under the ministry shows around 339,000 international visitors arrived in Vietnam last month, taking the total number of foreign arrivals in January through August to over three million, up 6.9% year-on-year. Foreign arrivals in August, though increasing by 2.7% against July, even fell by 4.8% year-on-year.

In some recent tourism meetings, tour operators said they foresaw the decline of foreign arrivals, and gave comments from overseas buyers that the situation would be more difficult in the coming time.

Minister Anh said that Vietnam had recorded good tourism growth in the first few months of this year, but signs of slowdown have surfaced since the middle of the year due to rising costs, including a strong increase of fuel surcharge and inflation.

"Due to the economic slowdown, many travellers from key source markets of the country's inbound sector have changed their mind, taking domestic trips rather than travelling overseas," he said.

However, the minister also admitted to the Daily that the ineffective publicity programme was also to blame for the poor performance.

"We are lacking strong publicity programmes, and quick-witted marketing campaigns to cope with the hard situation," Anh said.

He said that, in the rest of this year, the sector would carry out more promotion programmes overseas and on international media networks to lure more visitors to Vietnam. The national tourism body has just finished a promotion trip to Spain, and is preparing for next trips to Japan and Russia this month, and other programmes in Australia and Taiwan.

"Road shows in two big cities Moscow and St. Petersburg on September 16 and 18 are good chances to increase the number of Russian visitors to Vietnam from nearly 70,000 this year to 100,000 next year. It's a good market because the travel purchasing power of Russian travellers is still high," he said.

Months earlier, the country's tourism planned to spend a big budget of 16 billion dong on advertising tourism on international television networks such as CNN, Discovery and those in Japan and South Korea in late this year.

Asked about this process, Anh said that the tourism sector is carrying out activities to deploy the publicity programmes.

"For CNN, we are in talks for better advertising price, and this time we will promote (Vietnam's tourism) on CNN in Europe," Anh said.

Last year, Vietnam welcomed around 4.2 million international visitors, up 17.2% compared to 2006.

The Saigon Times Daily - September 10, 2008