3 Myths About Luxury Tourism in Vietnam

Luxury is a problematic word. Managers, hoteliers, restauranteurs, guides, and others regularly use luxury to enhance the image of their product regardless of whether it’s really aimed at luxury travelers.

Where other markets have moved on to a more creative and descriptive lexicon, luxury remains a popular marketing buzzword in Vietnam. The problem is that if you see a company or hotel using luxury to describe what they offer, there’s a good chance that their products are anything but.

Adding to the confusion, there is ambiguity across global markets: the average luxury travel experience for a Brit may be different to the average luxury travel experience for an American. Even greater differences exist across the average traveler from French, Chinese, South Korean, and Russian markets. Just like any other market segment or tour style, the origins of the customer need to be taken into consideration.

Luxury resort Sisters Tours

Needless to say, international tourism professionals like yourself need to be very careful when selecting the right local partners in Vietnam. Sometimes even the smallest mismatch between expectations and services can cause serious harm to your business.

The first thing you’ll need to do is gain some clarity by understanding the untruths. In this article, we highlight – and explain – the 3 biggest myths about luxury travel in Vietnam:

  1. Luxury travel is different in Vietnam and the West
  2. Luxury travel has to be extravagant, personalized and private
  3. Vietnam is saturated with luxury travel providers

Most valuable to you will be our top tips. After we highlight and explain the myths, we’ll be giving you advice on how to avoid the pitfalls and select the best partners.

Myth 1: Luxury travel is different in Vietnam and the West

We constantly hear that luxury tourism for the Vietnamese is different to luxury tourism for Westerners. We also hear that this fundamental difference is the root of all the problems related to luxury travel in Vietnam. Both are false, and we’ll tell you why.

Globally speaking there are two types of people that spend significant amounts of money when they travel.

One type of traveler – we can call her the money-burner – wants the best of the best, always. Below are some of the characteristics that define the money-burner:

  • She is wealthy, and she wants to feel wealthy while she travels.
  • She requires comfort, convenience, and professionalism.
  • She puts value on what are reportedly the best hotels, the best restaurants, and the must-do experiences.
  • She is likely to value premium experiences over authentic experiences, but still wants to feel like she’s seen the country, particularly the highlights.
  • She is likely to want only limited or watered-down experiences with local people and local culture.

Luxury Travel Vietnam

The other type of traveler – we can call her the high-ender – travels very differently. Below are some of the characteristics that define the high-ender:

  • She is typically well-educated with a high-paying job.
  • She requires that her trips are comfortable and convenient, but not always at the expense of authenticity.
  • She wants uniqueness, privacy, and professionalism at every step.
  • She is likely to have special requests – perhaps she’s a lawyer and she wants to connect with local lawyers while she travels.
  • She is likely to want to give something back to the country. This may be in monetary terms, but not always.
  • She is likely to have an appreciation for responsible and sustainable travel practices, and may wish to understand more about vulnerabilities of the destination.
  • She is likely to value secondary or even tertiary destinations – those where luxury travel is the hardest to arrange.

These two types of luxury travelers exist in Vietnam, just as they do in every country in the world. The difference is the ratio.

There are Vietnamese domestic travelers that fall into both camps. It’s true that Vietnamese domestic money-burners far outweigh Vietnamese domestic high-enders, but this is a changing reality. We will see an increasing number of high-end luxury travelers in the coming years.

Things are a little more complicated when it comes to inbound tourists, but the fundamental truth remains the same. Whether they are from Europe, North America, or Asia, luxury travelers by and large fall into both categories.

This is important, as the industry needs to start thinking more about the different types of luxury travelers rather than lazily dividing luxury between domestic and inbound.

Tip: Always start by thinking about the kinds of luxury travelers your company caters to. Also bear in mind that some luxury travelers may exhibit traits of both types.

Myth 2: Luxury tourism in Vietnam has to be extravagant, personalized, and private

The notion that luxury travel must be extravagant, personalized, and private is an oversimplification. Let’s look at each one separately.

Is luxury always extravagant?

Luxury travel for both money-burners and high-enders is usually an indulgent experience. But extravagance never trumps comfort and this is a common mistake in Vietnam, particularly in the accommodation sector.

Hotel owners may invest heavily in the lobby and bar, but pinch pennies in the bedroom. Think overly soft mattresses and synthetic sheets. Luxury travelers, and high-enders in particular, will always value a good night sleep over a lobby made of marble and gold.

Keep in mind that some of Vietnam’s best luxury hotels keep common areas simple, and instead invest in making guests feel comfortable.

Tip: Be very careful with those decadent photos on the hotel website, and don’t trust any number of stars that you see plastered all over their marketing materials. Instead, you’ll need to do site visits yourself or through an independent. Alternatively, find a local partner you can trust and let them make the hotel selection choices. Oftentimes, luxury international hotel chains make the best choices for money-burners, while members of international boutique luxury hotel groups are good for high-enders. There is a handful of both.

Is luxury always personalized?

This depends on the traveler. High-enders will always demand a personalized experience when they travel. They will have specific expectations and will want them to be met. This makes them a challenging segment to cater for, especially in Vietnam where things don’t always go according to plan.

But money-burners are often more satisfied with a more generic luxury experience. This may involve staying in the known best hotels in the city and eating in the best restaurants, regardless of personality type.

Tip: If you work mainly with high-enders, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Test your potential partners by sending them one of your personas, qualify this with some traits and requests, and see what they come back with. If they can’t be creative and original in the way that tailor a program, that should be a big warning sign.

Is luxury always private?

Virtually all luxury travelers coming to Vietnam will demand privacy. Fortunately in Vietnam, this is achievable. Private routes through immigration, private transfers in comfortable vehicles, and private tours with expert tour guides are all possible with the right local partner.

Luxury tour Vietnam

Tip: Organizing private tours and comfortable transfers are easy in Vietnam. But arranging private routes through immigration or after-hours visits of popular sites is more challenging. When talking to your potential partner, go straight in there with the hard stuff and ask for examples. If they don’t give you timely and detailed answers with what they’ve done, this is another warning sign.

Myth 3: Vietnam is saturated with luxury travel providers and accommodations

Do a quick Google search and it will seem like you have your pick of luxury travel providers in Vietnam. But just because travel companies say they can provide luxury travel experiences, doesn’t necessarily mean that they can.

Many local agents that work in luxury travel probably shouldn’t be calling themselves luxury. And as we’ve seen in the last section, there is only a handful of hotels that are actually providing a luxury accommodation experience.

It’s no secret that the tourism potential in Vietnam is enormous, but the industry is still catching up with countries like Thailand and Singapore. This is especially true when it comes to luxury travel.

Vietnam is a developing country and tourism is, at least regionally speaking, still new. Infrastructure is still developing in much of the country and the unexpected could happen at any moment.

Tip: It’s sometimes important to educate your customers about the state of tourism in Vietnam. Tourism is booming in the country and there are copious opportunities for successful luxury experiences. But where other popular Asian destinations like India and Thailand have been welcoming tourists for centuries, tourism only opened in Vietnam in the 1990s.

Service is getting better, but it’s still not up to international or even regional standards yet. There is still only a limited number of service staff which can anticipate the wants and needs of the customer, even in the best hotels and restaurants. Cultural differences between Vietnamese service staff and inbound travelers only makes the situation more of a challenge.

There are training schools for hotel staff that wish to work in luxury hotels, and this is a good step forward. But programs that train tour guides for luxury travelers don’t exist in Vietnam yet. Instead, local agents must seek out experienced guides that have learnt these skills on the job with their customers. This comes with its own set of challenges.

Tip: Ask potential partners about how they select their tour guides and leaders beyond language abilities, training, and experience. Tour guides and leaders for luxury travelers need to be able to solve problems quickly and anticipate the requirements of the customer. Make sure that the potential partner looks at these things, along with other skills that may be important to you and your customers.

There is also a destination divide: It’s easier to facilitate luxury tours in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Halong Bay, and Hoi An than it is in Sapa, Hue, Danang, or Da Lat. This is ok for money-burners that want to see the highlights, but perhaps not for high-enders that want a unique and authentic experience off the beaten track.

Lastly, too many companies are trying to do too much. We know that in order to provide a truly exceptional product, an agency should specialize and focus on what they’re best at. But still in Vietnam, too many companies are trying to do it all. This has repercussions for the luxury segment, just as it does for other segments.

Tip: Think twice before partnering with a company that does anything but luxury travel experiences. You might also want to be careful with companies that are both B2B and B2C. Only the largest companies have the resources to pull off both.

Hien Truong

Hi, my name is Hien. I’m managing director of Sisters Tours, Vietnam’s bespoke B2B agency. I’m also president of Vietnam’s only sustainable travel association: the Responsible Travel Club (RTC). Do you have questions? Send me an email at hien@sisterstoursvn.com and let’s get the conversation started.

Hien Truong

Hi, my name is Hien. I’m managing director of Sisters Tours, Vietnam’s bespoke B2B agency. I’m also president of Vietnam’s only sustainable travel association: the Responsible Travel Club (RTC). Do you have questions? Send me an email at hien@sisterstoursvn.com and let’s get the conversation started.

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