HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam on Thursday greeted its four-millionth visitor of the year, celebrating a milestone for the tourism sector as it is seeking to position itself as a leading Southeast Asian travel destination.
US citizen Michael Davis Magidson was surprised to be greeted with flowers by women wearing traditional au dai dresses and conical hats as he stepped off a Vietnam Airlines flight at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport.
“We look forward to seeing your beautiful country,” said Magidson at a ceremony to mark his arrival on flight VN 830 from Bangkok, which meant the sector had achieved its annual target several weeks ahead of time.
Vietnam, mainly a backpackers’ destination in the 1990s, is now ramping up its airline capacity and building a string of new hotels and resorts as it seeks to catch up as a mainstream destination with countries such as Thailand.
The number of international arrivals is forecast to reach 4.3 million in 2007, or 700,000 more visitors than last year, according to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), which organised the welcome.
Visitors from neighbouring China made up the largest group, with 515,000 arrivals in 11 months, followed by arrivals from South Korea, the United States, Japan, Australia, France, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore.
With this year’s rise in international arrivals, the tourism industry expects earnings to increase to 3.5 billion dollars from last year’s 2.85 billion dollars, the state-run Vietnam News Agency said.
Vietnam had just 250,000 international visitors in 1990 but aims to attract six million foreign visitors a year by 2010 and earn 4.5 billion dollars from the tourism sector, said VNAT vice chairman Nguyen Manh Cuong.
Tourism, although still facing a shortage of high-end hotel rooms, is among Vietnam’s top five industries and sustains 230,000 direct and 600,000 indirect jobs, a Hanoi business conference was told this week.