WASHINGTON -- Vietnam's fledgling tourism industry is sure to get a
boost of confidence as a result of the landmark U.S. trade
agreement signed last week here, according tour operators to
Vietnam and other Asia travel experts.
The anticipated increase in travel to Vietnam -- much of it
business travel -- will likely encourage U.S. airlines to begin
flying to Hanoi, something no U.S. carrier currently, the experts
The agreement will almost certainly lead to an increase in the
cost of lodging and airline tickets, although in the immediate
future Vietnam will continue to be one of Asia's most affordable
travel destinations, the experts said.
A quarter-century after the end of the Vietnam War, the two
nations last Thursday signed the historic accord giving both
countries access to one another's goods and services.
In the short term, "the publicity surrounding the improved
relations will lower the barriers for people who were considering
traveling to Vietnam, even if those barriers were imagined," said
Bill Irwin, president of Houston, Texas-based Saigon Tourist USA,
the U.S. representative for Saigon Tourist, the largest tour
operator in Vietnam.
More importantly, Irwin said, the trade agreement could
kick-start negotiations for U.S. airlines to start flying to
Vietnam. He called the lack of air service from the U.S. to Hanoi
the "biggest road block" for Vietnam's tourism industry.
"I don't think there are any major hotel companies that are not
already there or considering setting up shop," said Irwin. "The
airlines are a very different story." Irwin's company last year
transported more than 4,000 Americans to Vietnam.
However, Saigon Tourist's biggest market by far is Japan, which
sent some 15,000 people to its close neighbor. Vietnam has seen a
sharp increase in tourists since opening up to the outside world in
the last decade.
Some 530,000 tourists visited Vietnam during the first three
months of this year, up 14% compared with the same period last
year, according to the Vietnam Department of Tourism in Hanoi.
Before the agreement, the department predicted Vietnam would
receive approximately 2 million visitors this year, an increase of
12.5% compared with 1999, when there were 1.7 million tourist