“French travellers are very sensitive to the quality of service,” Interface Tourism President Gael de La Porte du Theil told a tourism seminar in Hanoi.
“They want good food, good value for money and comfort.
“They are interested in both relaxation and mostly culture-related activities such as visiting monuments, museums, exhibitions and festivals.”
Vietnam’s cultural richness, landscapes, the kindness of its people and the distinctiveness of its history and heritage drew them to the country.
Vietnam image in France was that of a safe destination, the film “Indochine,” Ha Long Bay, gastronomy and books by Marguerite Duras.
The 12-million-euro European-Union-funded Viet Nam Human Resources Development in Tourism Project organised the two-day seminar to introduce source markets for the tourism industry.
Interface Tourism, a French tourism market research organisation, lists Vietnam as the 3rd Asian destination for French tourists after China and Thailand.
It says Asia is the fastest-growing destination for French tourists with a 66% increase in visits between 2000-2006.
Diversification that includes new regions, ecotourism and “beach only” or a combination “tour-beaches” could provide further success for Vietnam.
Frenchman Claude Le Palud, who first visited the country two years ago, said: “I’m very interested in Vietnamese culture.
“I like learning about the life of the minority people in Sa Pa and visiting Ha Long Bay and the old streets of Hanoi.”
The French budget for travels abroad totalled 24.8bil francs last year and French tourists now spend an average of 1,700 francs for each journey abroad, an increase of 41% since 2001.
The keenest travellers are the young and the retired – people above 50.
Grand Tours Ha Noi director Le Thi Hanh said that because the amount spent by French visitors did not match that of Japanese or American visitors, her company had not exploited the market.
“We plan to seek customers from the potential Nordic market” she said.
France ranked 7th of the top 10 countries to provide visitors to Vietnam last year. China was atop the list.
But it provided the most European visitors, a record 182,500, says the Viet Nam Tourism Administration.
The total the previous year was 132,300 and the number of French visitors jumped 53% between 2000 and 2007.
”It had peaked previously with the success of two French movies: Indochine and L’Amant in 1995.
A decline between 1995-97 is attributed to poor service and value for money in Vietnam’s hotels.
Interface Tourism surveys show that a shortage of four-star hotels in major cities; insufficient flights between France and Vietnam; a lack of qualified guides in central Vietnam and high prices-compared with other Asian countries are hampering Vietnam’s tourism industry.
French visitors also complain that tourist buses and the standardisation of the local arts and craftshops rob typical Vietnamese villages of their authenticity.
The seminar was told that Vietnam’s Asian competitors benefit from a massive media exposure in the French market.
Examples include China with this year’s Olympic Games and Malaysia with the intense promotion campaigns.
Vietnam should learn from these two countries to combine tourism promotion campaigns, the seminar was told.
It should also diversify its tourism products: Ecotourism, the promotion of local cultures; gastronomy and handicrafts.