With More than 10 million visitors last year, Vietnam is swiftly climbing the ranks to become one of the most popular travel destinations in Asia.
Vietnam travel specialist Guilhem Cavaille from bespoke tour operator ASIA DMC explains what makes Vietnam so special and offers his thoughts and observations on what will keep it that way.
Right: Guilhem Cavaille - ASIA DMC Vietnam travel specialist.
1) Why is Vietnam special in your opinion?
Vietnam is special for so many reasons.
The History of the country in itself sounds like thrilling myths and legends. Then there’s the incredible diversity of scenery with unique natural wonders, World Heritage sites all around the country, and warm-hearted people giving a genuine meaning to hospitality. There are numerous different ethnic cultures, totally wild areas. And the food… it’s one of the most diverse cuisines in the world.
2) How has it changed over the past 10 years?
Cities have changed a lot with an increase in the number of cars and the emergence of many high-rise buildings and residential areas. The people in urban areas are much better off than they were before and this has affected the prices of everything. 10 years ago, a bowl of Pho (traditional noodle soup) was 7.000 Vietnam Dong; today it is about 40.000. Life has changed, but we still find plenty of remote and pristine spots.
3) Will travellers want to keep coming back? And if so why?
Sure, or at least they should. The potential of Vietnam is huge and under-exploited. When we talk about the destinations, there is always some pristine or less-travelled trail or village to explore. The coastline is over 3.000 kilometers long but only a few beach destinations exist so far, so there is room for many more. There is plenty of room for development and there will be a constant renewal of interest in the new destinations that emerge.
4) Will Vietnam every experience the incredible repeat business of Thailand? What does it need to do to achieve this?
In my opinion, the returning rate of Thailand is due in part to the guarantees it offers. On the other hand, it is also popular due to some elements that are specific to Thailand based also on parties and sex. Obviously, there are many reasons to come back to Thailand, and beach and culture and scenery are some examples. Vietnam is an incredible country with its own culture and diversity. Consequently, I believe with its rich culture, picturesque scenery, diversified tradition from 54 ethnic groups as well as the contribution of professional travel companies like ASIA DMC, Vietnam will become a hot destination for all new and returning travelers in the future.
5) Vietnam is exploding as a tourism destination with over 10 million arrivals in 2016. What challenges does it face as a result and what should the country be doing to grow sustainably while still continuing to attract arrivals?
The major challenge now is to face the diversity of travelers, including short-haul with domestic flights. Chinese and Indian tourists have different expectations from long haul and historical tourists from the western markets. The development should be properly managed at a national governance level. There are improvements to make, mostly in nature conservation and infrastructures development. We would love to see the country embracing a long-term vision, building green and giving proper direction the local tourist industry. For now, they are focusing on more a short-term perspective and thinking about immediate profit without regard for the environment or local populations.
6) What are some of the secret destinations in Vietnam that are still unexplored and personal favourites of yours?
Please suggest three and explain what makes them special. I would say Ngoc Son Ngo Luong nature reserve as a first. It was my last crush on a place, 7 years ago as I was inspecting a very secluded valley with no road access and jungle all around. People are from the Muong ethnic group, very friendly, they live in a little piece of paradise made of lagoons, cascades and natural pools. The destination is very rarely traveled, and it is best left like this. We can keep it an exclusive for ASIA DMC.
I love so many places here, but I would go for Cat Ba. Cat Ba is not unexplored, but compared to Halong it is much less visited. The island features a national park made up of lush jungle, a scenic hilly road, a typical island atmosphere and a bay, Lan Ha bay. Lan Ha offers pristine creaks, modest bungalows, and varied trekking and biking opportunities.
7) What makes ASIA DMC different from other tour operators in Vietnam?
There are several very good tour operators in Vietnam. Each one has its own unique points and strengths. How ASIA DMC is different, or how we strive at making it different, I think is simply in the way we approach travel. With a strong philosophy and a very profound expertise, we take our partners beyond the usual travel clichés that frame the country. We treasure the people and we treasure the country, while many tour operators only treasure the business they make out of it. We also have a real commitment to sustainable tourism visible through the projects carried out by our foundation.
8) Access to destinations will always limit their popularity. However where the access is great, such as in Hanoi and HCMC, travellers can quickly become tired of the familiar. How can ASIA DMC make major tourism destinations come alive for travellers?
It requires us to always be on the lookout for something new. To find a different way to do something – a different time, a different activity, a hidden spot near a more famous one. There are plenty of ways to experience a destination. Our role as pioneers is also to make new destinations become major destinations.
9) When did you come to Vietnam and what is it that you love about it the most - in one sentence.
I landed in Vietnam in early 2005 and what I love the most about it is the “epicurean-esque” lifestyle of its people.