Giggles were barely suppressed in tourism industry circles recently when a VNAT spokesman announced that they would soon be marketing Vietnam using new technologies, “especially internet, and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter”.


Presumably the gentleman in question is unaware that for many people in Vietnam, accessing Facebook still requires the use of proxy servers, DNS tweaks and other technological jiggery-pokery, as a result of a much-publicised block on the world’s most popular social network. And while this may not affect people overseas searching for information about their trip to Vietnam, it does affect the alleged 6 million tourists who visit Vietnam every year and who, were they able to access it, would be using Facebook to share their travel pictures and videos, tell their friends what a wonderful time they’re having, and generally provide vital (and free) word-of-mouth marketing.


The situation sums up Vietnam’s bizarre relationship with the internet. The country’s young population means that over 30 percent of the population are internet users (over 50 percent in urban areas), and many of these young people are highly entrepreneurial, yet internet/social media marketing in the country remains non-existent at worst to amateurish at best, and nowhere is this more true than in tourism and hospitality.


Time to Share


Compare, for example, the country’s national tourism website (current headline — “Seminar on Cultural Heritages”) with that of, say Costa Rica, and the problem is immediately summed up for you — one focuses on heritage, culture, seminars etc, and is designed to look like a newspaper; the other is colourful, interactive and, most importantly, shows foreign people having fun, which is as close to a perfect definition of tourism as you will get in my opinion.


In Vietnam itself, bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels all offer free Wi-Fi, but don’t tweak their routers to allow Facebook access, meaning that the tourist who’s popped in for a coffee can’t tell his friends back home what a wonderful place this is. No venues are encouraging clients to review their business on Tripadvisor, THE social media tool for tourism and hospitality businesses. And when I open the new version of Foursquare, which provides local recommendations for me when I’m out and about, I see no cafes, bars or restaurants offering special deals for Foursquare check-ins — yet when I’m in Bangkok, Berlin or Birmingham, pretty much every café on Foursquare is vying for my custom by offering me a 10 percent discount, a free espresso or a free gift if I check in and thus share my experience with my friends and followers.


What’s even more surprising is that so many businesses in Vietnam ignore free marketing channels such as these and persist with expensive, intrusive, garish and scattershot banner ads, which render so many local websites virtually unreadable and which deter me from patronising the businesses they are designed to promote. 


So come on Vietnam, you have more free Wi-Fi than pretty much anywhere else in the world — start using it to its full potential and make it easy for your clients to tell the world how wonderful you really are!

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