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Vietnamese international outbound travel boom

We know record numbers of foreigners are coming to visit Vietnam, so how about Vietnamese going abroad?

There are droves of Vietnamese going overseas with significant increases in the number of trips abroad each year.

The tour and travel industry uses the term “outbound” to describe travel to foreign countries and “inbound” to describe foreigners visiting from abroad, so let’s look at Vietnam’s outbound travel market.

The Middle and Affluent Class (referred to as MAC) in Vietnam is the fastest-growing in Southeast Asia and with that growth comes a thirst for houses, luxury goods, and, naturally, international travel.

The MAC is defined as those earning VND15 million per month (US$714) or more, projected to be one-third of the population by the year 2020. 

Nearly 60 percent of the population in Vietnam is under 35 years of age with many of that group better educated and earning higher incomes than previous generations. 

As inbound tourism booms, the standard of living in Vietnam rises, and so does the cost of domestic travel, to the point where international trips these days cost the same or even less in some cases. It’s possible to travel by airplane from Ho Chi Minh City to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, or Manila, the Philippines for less than it costs to go to Hanoi.

Similarly, trips from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang or Hue are just about the same price as some short package trips to Thailand. Just as one example, six different airlines fly routes between cities in Vietnam and Thailand so the tough competition keeps prices low. 

Airlines flying out of Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City serve over 40 international destinations alone with new routes being added all the time. The situation at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi is similar.

Vietnamese living near borders can easily take advantage of low-cost bus travel with tours to favorite destinations and opportunities to combine such trips with business.

Travelling overseas is becoming less of a hassle all the time as holders of Vietnamese passports now enjoy visa-free access to 49 countries, including the other nine ASEAN member countries.

Dramatic increase in overseas trips by Vietnamese travellers


Where are Vietnamese travellers going?


China is right at the top of the list, welcoming almost two million Vietnamese visitors last year. Many people from the north take short bus trips to enjoy nearby destinations in China and to import goods back into Vietnam.

Multiple airlines serve many destinations in mainland China from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and other cities in Vietnam. Add to that Macau, Hong Kong, and several locations in Taiwan and the entire area has many options for travel directly from Vietnam.

Thanks to its proximity to Vietnam, Cambodia is the second most popular destination for outbound Vietnamese travellers. Phnom Penh is small compared to most Asian capital cities, with plenty of gorgeous Buddhist temples and shopping options easily reached by bus in a few hours from Ho Chi Minh City and by airplane from both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat, voted the top tourist site in the world in 2017 by TripAdvisor, is served by airlines from several cities in Vietnam.

Bangkok is one of the top mega-city destinations in the world with visitors from Vietnam seeking its great temples, sites, cuisine, infrastructure, and world-class shopping. Beach destinations such as Pattaya and Phuket are also popular with Koh Samui recently moving onto the top attractions list.

Neighbour Laos shares Vietnam’s longest border at over 2,000 kilometers with six overland border crossings between the two countries. That makes Laos an easy place to visit for Vietnamese wishing to explore the sights, do business, or both. Several flights are offered between Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the Lao capital Vientiane, as well as Pakse and the ancient capital city Luang Prabang.

So it makes sense that the most frequented destinations from Vietnam are those that are nearby, popular, and relatively inexpensive.

From there it gets most interesting because rounding out the top 10 overseas destinations most frequented by Vietnamese are these six countries:Singapore

– Japan

– Malaysia

– South Korea (officially called the Republic of Korea)

– United States  

– Germany

All the above are more distant, most require visas for Vietnamese visitors, and they are relatively expensive, but surprisingly Vietnamese made over 1.5 million total trips to those six countries last year alone. 

Singapore and Malaysia are also ASEAN member countries, so Vietnamese passport holders need no visa to visit either. Both are world-class destinations with plenty of sights to see, shopping, dining, and entertainment and offer a glimpse into what the future will be like in a highly-developed Vietnam.

A record number of 531,000 Vietnamese visited Singapore last year with an estimated 300,000 visiting Malaysia. Medical tourism from Vietnam to both destinations is becoming increasingly popular.

Japan and South Korea are both very unique for the foreign visitor, boasting rich culture and histories, great food, and efficient infrastructures. Both countries are Olympic hosts (South Korea in 2018 and Japan in 2020) and have relaxed their visa requirements during recent years to encourage more tourism. 

The Japanese Tourism Authority opened a representative office in Hanoi in 2017 to better handle the large number of Vietnamese visitors, estimated at over 300,000 last year.

Vietnam catapulted into 8th position on the list of countries sending tourists to South Korea with a record-breaking performance of over 300,000 travellers in 2017.

The Vietnamese community in Germany is well over 100,000 so there are pockets of authentic Vietnamese culture and food to be found on a visit. Germany also offers a new cultural experience for Vietnamese, many of whom are already familiar with French influence from colonial times.

The U.S. is home to millions of Americans of Vietnamese descent and Vietnamese immigrants, making it an attractive destination for tourists and those wishing to be reunited with family and friends who’ve settled there. The U.S. has lots of appeal for tourism because it’s so large and varied.

Vietnamese visitors take a picture at Cloud Forest in Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Vietnamese visitors take a picture at Cloud Forest in Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Which new outbound destinations for Vietnamese are gaining popularity?

Other destinations moving onto the Vietnamese outbound tourism radar include Taiwan, Bali, Dubai, and Bhutan (the country that flaunts its “Gross National Happiness” as being more important than Gross Domestic Product).

Within the visa-free ASEAN member countries the Philippines is near for Vietnamese travellers, has thousands of beaches and islands, and is about the same price as Vietnam for the tourist.

Bali is just the tip of the iceberg in Indonesia, which has over 17,000 islands, hundreds of sub-cultures, and is reasonably priced.

No doubt as the MAC population increases dramatically there will be more options for the overseas Vietnamese traveller, so watch this space in the coming years.

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