Need a strategy to attract Chinese customers

The demand for travel destinations in Vietnam from China has surged prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.


According to data from online travel platform Agoda, the number of searches from China to Vietnam during the recent Lunar New Year holiday has recovered compared to pre-pandemic levels. In January 2024, statistics from the General Statistics Office showed that Chinese tourists continued to increase, after reaching the second position among the largest international markets in 2023.

Leading international markets

Agoda data shows that Vietnam is a preferred tourist destination for Chinese tourists at the beginning of 2024. Specifically, during the recent Lunar New Year holiday, the percentage of Chinese tourists interested in traveling to Vietnam in 2024 reached 95% compared to 2020 – the time before travel restrictions due to COVID-19 were implemented.

According to Mr. Vu Ngoc Lam, Agoda’s Director in Vietnam, mainland Chinese tourists accounted for nearly 1/3 of the total number of tourists in Vietnam in 2019 and generated the largest tourism revenue. “In 2020, China topped the list of countries searching for travel information in Vietnam. Chinese tourists choose Vietnam because of its rich culture and beautiful natural landscapes. However, the pandemic broke out afterwards and border closures significantly reduced the number of Chinese tourists visiting Vietnam. After reopening, the search volume in 2022 and 2023 reached only 3% compared to 2020. Therefore, the recent return of interest from mainland Chinese tourists indicates the potential of Vietnam’s tourism in this year,” said Mr. Vu Ngoc Lam.

Statistics from the General Statistics Office showed that in January 2024, international tourists to Vietnam reached over 1.5 million, an increase of 73.6% compared to the same period. Among them, Chinese tourists led the way with more than 242,000 arrivals, a significant increase compared to the previous month. In 2023, Vietnam also welcomed over 1.74 million Chinese tourists, a 376% increase compared to the previous year.

Chinese tourists visit and watch performances at the Ponagar Tower in Nha Trang. Photo: KY NAM

Mr. Michael Kokalari, Director of Macroeconomic Analysis and Market Research at Vina Capital, believes that the potential for Chinese tourists to increase in 2024 (reaching 30% of pre-COVID-19 levels last year) is high.

Mr. Nguyen Quoc Ky, Chairman of Vietravel Tourism Company, stated that in 2024, Vietnam’s tourism industry aims to welcome over 18 million international tourists, equivalent to the number in 2019. To achieve this target or even exceed it, it is necessary to focus on key markets that have been providing tourist flows to Vietnam in the past.

Regarding the Chinese market, forecasts from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the country’s policies indicate that Chinese tourists traveling abroad will experience a surge. In January 2024 alone, there were about 1.2 million Chinese tourists traveling abroad. On average, around 120 million Chinese citizens travel abroad each year. “After 2023, along with the growth of domestic tourism, Chinese citizens will travel abroad more, and Vietnam is a potential destination due to its convenient transportation by road, air, and rail. Chinese tourists will be the driving force for the recovery of tourism in various countries, including Vietnam, if a suitable strategy is implemented. The tourism industry needs clear policies and specific targets for how many tourists to welcome from each country and region in order to formulate plans and take action immediately,” said Mr. Nguyen Quoc Ky.

Considering visa exemption for Chinese tourists

Currently, countries in the region such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore have specific targets for welcoming international tourists, including Chinese tourists, with comprehensive plans and strategies. For example, Thailand aims to welcome 36-38 million international tourists this year, including 10-11 million Chinese tourists, doubling the number from last year.

Mr. Dang Manh Phuoc, CEO of The Outbox Company, analyzed forecasts from various international organizations indicating that Chinese tourists will soon return and become a major source market for Vietnam. Setting a strategic plan to attract Chinese tourists at this time may be a bit late for this year, but it is still necessary for the future. “Chinese tourists are not only important for Vietnam but also for many other Southeast Asian countries. Therefore, competition for destinations is fierce, requiring the tourism industry to have strategies and policies to attract Chinese tourists. The first step is to consider visa exemption. After COVID-19, the preferences and demands of Chinese tourists have changed, so appropriate products are needed. The young tourist group prefers independent tours and prioritizes beautiful destinations. Therefore, more investment in promotion and communication is needed, rather than focusing solely on cheap or zero-dong tours as before,” said Mr. Dang Manh Phuoc.

Considering visa exemption for Chinese tourists is a proposal that many experts and travel businesses have mentioned in their strategies for attracting Chinese tourists. Thailand and another country have already implemented this policy to enhance their competitiveness as tourist destinations. Vietnam has many advantages in attracting Chinese tourists, such as its proximity, similar culture, beautiful destinations, shopping, accommodation, dining services… that are suitable for the needs and preferences of the middle-class segment from this market.

Mr. Phan Dinh Hue, CEO of Vong Tron Viet Travel Company, stated that after the domestic tourism promotion period, Chinese tourists will travel abroad more in 2024 and become the most important market for many countries. “In addition to visa policies, the strategy to attract Chinese tourists could include developing multi-modal transportation, such as train and sea routes, in addition to air and road routes. Chinese tourists are somewhat lively, so special areas can be built to serve this segment, without affecting traditional tourist flows from Europe and the US…,” said Mr. Phan Dinh Hue.

The peak season for European and American international tourists is usually from September and October to March and April of the following year. The remaining periods often see a lack of tourists, especially in destinations in the North. If Chinese tourists can be attracted, it can help hotels and 3-4 star accommodations in the North achieve room occupancy and maintain business operations throughout the year…

Increasing visitor spending

Agoda data shows that Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Nha Trang, Da Nang, and Phu Quoc Island are the top choices for Chinese tourists. Speaking with reporters from Bao Người Lao Động (Labor Newspaper), Mr. Le Truong Hien Hoa, Deputy Director of Ho Chi Minh City Department of Tourism, said that China has always been one of the markets with a large number of visitors to the city in recent times. The city has focused on promoting and stimulating this market, while encouraging businesses to invest in products and services to increase the spending and shopping opportunities for Chinese tourists.

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