With interest on the rise and more tech solutions empowering SME operators, Vietnam and Cambodia are likely the next frontiers for digital disruption in tours, activities, and attractions.
Between 2016 and 2026, Vietnam will be among the ten fastest growing destinations on the planet for leisure-travel spending. This is true according to research from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). In 2017, the country climbed several ranks, becoming number 67 on the most-improved countries in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index.
Vietnam is expecting 17 million tourists in 2018, up a whopping 30 percent from the year before. Reports indicate that even those in the nation’s most impoverished areas are poised to benefit. Some of the exuberance may be due to the fact that accessibility to Vietnam via the web has never been easier.
Nguyen Van Tuan, head of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), recently said that global online travel agencies (OTAs) currently hold up to 80 percent of the country’s online travel market share. Most foreign visitors who come to Vietnam -- and even locals going on holiday -- use these OTAs.
Simultaneously, the country’s tour and activities sector is still largely made up of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). By and large, these are businesses that have yet to fully embrace solutions such as e-bookings, e-payments, and more. SMEs in Vietnam contribute more than 40 percent of the nation’s GDP and account for over 50 percent of overall employment.
With this in mind, an influx of tourists in 2018 to Vietnam ultimately begs an important question: Do Vietnam’s SME tour and activities operators have the proper digital tools to handle the incoming surge?
Vietnam has made solid improvement to its ICT capacity and usage, according to the World Economic Forum. Today over 94 percent of the national territory is covered by a 3G signal (which means people are now find attractions, tours and activities on mobile), and individual internet usage rose from 44 percent to 53 percent in 2017. These numbers illustrate that penetration of information technology is moving at a sustained pace.
News outlet Nhân Dân claims that Vietnam’s tourism market has already changed due to robust IT development. However, Vietnamese tour and activities operators have not yet taken full advantage of new tech to boost competitiveness, attract customers or manage their companies more efficiently.
Vu The Binh, vice chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, echoed this sentiment, saying that many operators in Vietnam still face technological difficulties, and this has affected their development. The association has approximately 4,000 members, but just a small fraction of those specialise in tourism technology.
As the developmental chess pieces move across the board, if attractions, tours and activities operators hope to stay competitive, they are going to need to embrace new solutions such as e-bookings, e-payments, enterprise management software, and more. Those who adapt will thrive, while those who do not will struggle.
In 2017, the total contribution of travel and tourism to Cambodia’s GDP was more than US$7.2 billion, representing 32.4 percent of the nation’s total. WTTC asserts that this number is set to climb by 4.5 percent in 2018, and grow by 6 percent annually on average until 2028.
It’s difficult to pinpoint just how many SME tour and activities operators there truly are in the country (as many are so informal that it’s hard to measure), but an estimated 40 to 50 percent of nation’s total employment can be attributed to SMEs in general, according to insights from the Cambodian government. WTTC adds that the travel and tourism sector contributed a total of 30.4 percent of the nation’s total employment (2.6 million jobs) last year, and by 2028 it will contribute 35 percent.
In short, all these numbers mean that SMEs cannot be ignored in an honest conversation about how important they are to attractions, tours and activities in Cambodia.
The country expects to welcome at least 6 million international tourists in 2018, 7 million by 2020, and 10 million by 2025, according to the director of the statistics department at the Ministry of Tourism. Cambodia is a relatively small country, with around 16 million people. As such, tourism and its related sectors represent an important pillar for the nation’s economy. If we are to put our faith in WTTC’s forecasts, local tour and activities operators need to get ready for an inflection point of growth. This means getting savvy with tech.
One interesting thing about Cambodia is that it is experiencing a high level of interest from Chinese travellers. The number of Chinese tourists visiting Cambodia spiked by 46 percent in 2017, as China surpassed Vietnam to become the top country of origin. This has created an interesting opportunity for local operators to leverage the internet to make themselves more visible and accessible to a Chinese audience. This is just one example of how operators could theoretically take advantage of a more digitised global economy.
As Cambodia’s budding space for attractions, tours and activities becomes more colourful in the years to come, winners and losers will emerge. Those who come to dominate the market over the next decade will be the ones who get calibrated properly with local and foreign OTAs, as well as those partner up with savvy regional tech solutions providers for a 360-degree digital execution.
Similarly to Vietnam, and with the data in mind, digitising attractions, tours, and activities in Cambodia may likely be the catalysts that causes some operators to grow revenue by 100x or more.