Nha Trang may be on the cusp of change as international flights arrive at the new Cam Ranh airport and Vietnam grows in popularity among Western Europeans, but the coastal city remains bogged down by negative perceptions within the travel trade.
Before the airport opened, the destination was traditionally reliant on Chinese and Russian groups arriving on charter flights. Now, some resorts are turning their attention to new international markets.
For example, Ingo Rauber, general manager at Sunrise Nha Trang Beach Hotel & Spa decided to move the resort’s focus away from Russian and Chinese groups “because we didn’t see the revenue coming in for incidentals for hotels”, and are targeting Western European markets instead.
Since the resort changed its marketing, business from its two traditional feeders went down 50 per cent, while Western European guest volume grew by about 25 per cent.
With the opening of Cam Ranh international airport last year, travellers no longer have to go through Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City to arrive in Nha Trang.
“However we are still missing Western European tourists because flights coming in are mostly through Bangkok, and travellers arriving in Bangkok in the morning will miss the day’s connection to Cam Ranh. Leaving Nha Trang you need to wait six to seven hours at the airport in Bangkok to catch the flight back home. That’s the biggest problem right now,” said Rauber.
Moreover, Nha Trang remains encumbered by its reputation within the travel trade and a perceived lack of suitable hotels for the Europeans.
“Nha Trang is still not yet popular with the Western European market… It might be because of the reputation among tour operators, not so much consumers,” said Frank Wiegand, director of team sales Europe, Focus Asia.
“There are two disadvantages: first of all, while Cam Ranh is changing, in Nha Trang most hotels don’t have direct beach access. There are some on islands off the coast, but guests in many hotels have to cross the street to get to the beach,” he continued.
Additionally, German travellers usually like three- or four-star, “small, local” resorts, which are lacking in Nha Trang, Wiegand pointed out.
“I’m not too fond of Nha Trang as it can be quite crowded and there are too many hotels,” said Moreten Westergaard, sales and production manager at Voya Travel in Denmark, which is adding Asian beach destinations to its Indian Ocean and Latin America core.
While some industry players liken Nha Trang to Phuket, trade buyers maintained that the Vietnamese beach city still lags behind its Thai counterpart.
Thailand beaches remain top choice for beach extensions in Indochina round-trips, said Alberto Maffizzoli from Tui Italia’s planning department, with Phuket most popular for the winter season and Samui for the summer season.
In comparison, Vietnam is known just “a little bit” for its beaches. “In Vietnam, Phu Quoc is (the top choice). I’ve been trying to develop Nha Trang, but at the moment it remains a new destination as it is not known on the market yet,” Maffizzoli said. “Everyone wants to go where everybody else is going.”
Similarly, Westergaard prefers beaches in Thailand for the availability of quieter, more “barefoot luxury” resort options, citing the example of the 9 Hornbills Tented Camp and Koyao Island Resort in Koh Yao Noi, near Phuket.
There are, however, glimmers of hope for Nha Trang.
“I see an enormous increase in interest for Vietnam, and there’s always a beach extension in itineraries. We are around 125,000 Dutch going to Vietnam last year. Three years ago it was 65,000,” said Frank Schretlen, sales director, the Netherlands, Vietnamtourism – Hanoi JSC.
He added: “People have been to Thailand and they want something else of South-east Asia.”
While some buyers point out that Russian and Chinese groups have made the beach less appealing to travellers from other markets, Schretlen pointed out that there are spaces in Nha Trang that are more popular with Europeans.
Wiegand added: “It’s a pity that Nha Trang is such a hard sell in Europe. Personally, it is a really nice place. If I go to the beach I still prefer to have restaurants and bars, and Nha Trang is the only city beach in Vietnam.”