Family Tours in Vietnam: Your Questions, Answered

Family Tours in Vietnam: Your Questions, Answered

Vietnam is fast becoming a top travel destination for families, and with good reason. The food is friendly, the history is relevant, the people are warm, and the countryside offers plenty to see and do for active families.

Vietnam is ideal for traveling families wanting something a little different. The country isn’t swamped with families, but tourism infrastructure is developed enough that traveling with kids isn’t a logistical nightmare. Furthermore, Vietnam is packed with opportunities to craft meaningful, memorable experiences for children.

But despite Vietnam’s potential as the perfect holiday destination for discerning families, organizing trips for groups that transcend generations is still a challenge unless you come prepared. These issues are usually linked to growing pains in the industry as a whole: Vietnam is late to the tourism game when compared with neighboring Thailand, for example.

The country is still finding its feet in terms of how best to serve visiting internationals, and that includes families. Many industry players are still grappling with what makes a good family holiday, in part because typical Vietnamese families and typical Western families travel differently. The trick is making sure that you find the right provider.

At Sisters Tours we maintain that, with a little bit of thought and a lot of preparation, Vietnam will serve as the perfect destination for your family customers. I get a lot of questions about family travel in Vietnam, which is why I’ve put together this FAQ guide to help agents that are new to the country.

I’ve separated this FAQ into two sections:

  1. What you need to know about family tours in Vietnam
  2. How to make a great family tour in Vietnam

The first section lays down all the basics, from safety and weather considerations to accommodation and food. This part tells you everything you need to know to make a family holiday in Vietnam possible.

The second section answers the more difficult questions. It explores how to make a family holiday meaningful, valuable, and enjoyable for the parents and the kids.

Let’s get started.

 

What you need to know about family tours in Vietnam

Is Vietnam safe for kids?

Absolutely! After decades of war and violence, Vietnam has emerged as a refreshingly safe and politically stable country. Crime rates are lower than in many Western countries, while love for children and respect for the family remain unwavering pillars of Vietnamese culture. Most Vietnamese people still proudly prioritize the family above all else, and that includes keeping children safe and healthy.

Is the food a problem for kids?

Vietnam’s cuisine is palatable for the most part, with ubiquitous dishes like noodle soup and fried rice agreeable to all but the fussiest children. In my experience, northern Vietnam, where the food is balanced with no overriding flavors, and southern Vietnam, where the food is sweet and tasty, are the biggest hits with kids.

Vietnamese food is generally not hot like Thai food or Korean food, except for in the central cities like Hue, Danang, and Hoi An. In central Vietnam, it’s always better to check that the dish isn’t hot before ordering it – chilies and spices can usually be taken out of a dish.

We still get a lot of children who can’t stomach (too much) of the local cuisine, which isn’t too problematic. Western food is easily found in all the tourist destinations.

A bigger issue is allergies. In many Western countries, serving staff are sensitive to food intolerances but that isn’t the case in Vietnam. Serving staff may not know all the ingredients that constitute a dish and classic offenders – like peanuts – can make their way into almost anything.

The safest thing is usually for families to work with their tour guide to avoid restaurants and dishes that might be a problem. Note that inexperienced tour guides may not have the diligence you might expect. Double check everything and work with the local provider beforehand to make any food-related requirements clear.

How is transport for kids?

Not a problem if traveling with companies like us who are used to working with families. Family-focused agencies will always have car seats and strollers for babies and younger children. The train is also family-friendly as you can book private compartments with 4-6 beds in each.

Is accommodation family-friendly?

Accommodation can be a problem for all but high-end traveling families. The reason for this is twofold.

Firstly, only five-star and some four-star hotels have adjoining rooms. This is a particular sore spot for mid-range families from the USA and Canada, where adjoining rooms come as standard across hotels. Rooms with two double beds are often called “family rooms,” though they may not offer enough space for the average Western family.

The second problem we face is swimming pools. A lot of families request swimming pools when they travel, but they’re harder to find here than in other countries. This is particularly true in Vietnam’s two largest cities: Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Never assume that the five-star hotel you’re looking at has a swimming pool – it might not.

Is Vietnam’s weather good for families?

However, there are ways to not let the weather become too much of a hindrance. Vietnam is a big and diverse country, and it isn’t too hard to arrange destinations around climate.

The most successful family holidays start with cultural activities in cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, and Hoi An. These cities are still good fun for families, even when it’s hot or wet. Take a look at the second section for family-friendly cultural activity ideas in these places.

Alternatively, or additionally, families can enjoy kid-friendly outdoor activities in those parts of the country with good weather. Sapa offers good hiking for kids, and if the northern mountains are too cold or rainy then Dalat serves as a great alternative. Phong Nha has caves and kayaking, but in rainy season families can head to Halong Bay or Ninh Binh instead.

No matter what time of year, there’s always a beach somewhere in Vietnam blessed with copious amounts of sun. The beaches in central Vietnam are only good in the summer months, whereas the beaches in the south are a good bet year-round.

I know this is all quite confusing, so I’ve put together this info to help:

Destinations good for summer vacation (June, July, August)

  • Cities: Hue, Hoi An
  • Outdoors: Phong Nha, Sapa, Halong Bay, Mai Chau, Ninh Binh, Dalat
  • Beaches: Danang, Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Con Dao, Phu Quoc

Avoid: Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City might be the only places to avoid during the summer months. They are both hot and humid with little respite from the heat. The problem is these are two major destinations, so if you can’t want to avoid them completely, consider minimizing time there.

Destinations good for Christmas vacation (December)

  • Cities: Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City
  • Outdoors: Halong Bay, Mai Chau, Ninh Binh, Dalat
  • Beaches: Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Con Dao, Phu Quoc

Avoid: The central destinations of Phong Nha, Hue, Hoi An, and Danang can all be rainy and stormy. The biggest storms should have passed through by December, but flooding is still a risk. Sapa and the northern mountains can be too cold for unaccustomed kids.

 

How to make a great family tour in Vietnam

How to balance the needs of the kids with the wants of the parents?

Striking this balance is the hardest thing about arranging a family tour. The biggest problems we face on tour are usually internal arguments within families because everyone wants to do something different.

Compromise is the right way forward, but how to achieve that?

I find that breaking the itinerary into days and balancing each day is the best way to do things. Separating the whole trip into two; week 1 for the adults and week 2 for the kids, for example, is a recipe for disaster.

I think it’s better to separate the day into two parts. Take an itinerary day in Hoi An/ Danang for example. The morning can be spent wandering the old town, a delightful activity for adults but boring for some kids. The afternoon can be spent at the beach with some watersports to keep the kids entertained.

A day in Hanoi might include a museum in the morning that will keep kids occupied, but perhaps not enthralled, and then a hands-on cooking class in the afternoon.

What meaningful exchanges are there for children?

Plenty! We’ve found that the most meaningful activities for kids are those with local kids. There are two environments where we’ve seen great success: schools and families.

Local schools are quite easy to work with and we’ve established great relationships across the country. There are a lot of chances for kids to get involved with English classes, sports, or recess. Private schools have traditionally been the easiest to work with, but state schools are also starting to cooperate, opening up interesting opportunities in rural areas.

Family visits are also easy to organize across the country. Homestay experiences have taken off in Vietnam, with opportunities to cook, eat, and even sleep in the homes of local people. Visiting children can interact with the host children, and learn things like how to cook or play local games. Within our network we also have artist and musician families, where kids can learn skills and crafts with the host family.

We find that activities with local children teach appreciation and understanding better than anything.

What fun activities are there for kids?

Vietnam doesn’t have world-class theme parks, water parks, or zoos like Singapore. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of opportunities for kids to have fun. We usually try and arrange activities where there isn’t pressure to learn; we’d rather that children learn by doing.

There are kid-friendly workshops across Vietnam, like puppet-making in Hanoi or paper art in Hue. There are also cooking classes which can be adapted to kids in every corner of the country.

For physical activities, there’s also cycling in the calmer cities of Hue and Hoi An, or water sports in Danang, Nha Trang, and Phu Quoc. Hiking families will be spoilt for choice in the country’s various national parks.

Is it possible to incorporate activities into educational programs?

Yes, absolutely. Kids from countries across the world, including the USA, the UK, France, Germany, and Australia, study modern Vietnamese history in secondary and high schools. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have excellent museums that help frame the Vietnamese experience of the war, though some museums may be too graphic for younger children.

There are also opportunities for older children to earn extra credit for university and college applications. We have links with various international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and local charities that can write letters to be used in college applications.

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.

3 Myths About Luxury Tourism in Vietnam

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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Responsible travel company? Here’s how to select the right partner in Vietnam

Responsible travel company? Here’s how to select the right partner in Vietnam

Along with experiential, ethical, sustainable, luxury, and others, responsible has become an overused buzzword in the tourism industry. If your company operates in this area, you’ll know that opinions and ideas vary as to what makes a responsible tourism product.

This ambiguity is especially true in Vietnam, and the tourism industry is rife with terms that are used incorrectly.

“Community based tourism” is applied to products that take place in the community, but sometimes little thought has gone into how this community can sustain the activities, or benefit from them. Sometimes these activities can take far more from the community than they give back.

“Ecolodges” are everywhere, but few actually operate in an eco-friendly way. Even worse, some have failed to source sustainable wood to build their rustic and charming accommodations, doing great harm to the environment.

Overdevelopment and hyper-commercialization plague Vietnam’s most popular tourist destinations, giving rise to the term “overtourism.” It’s common for visitors that come to Vietnam wishing to travel responsibly leave feeling like they’ve done more harm than good.

But don’t be too concerned — there is still plenty of opportunity in Vietnam for responsible and meaningful tourism activities. Indeed, tourism is often touted as an instrument to sustain fragile cultures and communities and protect the environment.

The challenge for responsible tourism professionals like yourself is selecting the right local partner. In this article, we pinpoint what responsible tourism means in the Vietnam context, followed by five pieces of advice that will help you make the right decisions:

1. Look at the experience of the potential partner

2. Think about how the potential partner positions itself

3. Be wary of cheap contract rates

4. Understand how the potential partner selects suppliers

5. Ask about the training the potential partner carries out

What is responsible tourism?

In 2002, the Cape Town Declaration outlined that responsible tourism is tourism which:

· minimizes negative social, economic and environmental impacts

· generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities

· improves working conditions and access to the industry

· involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances

· makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage embracing diversity

· provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues

· provides access for physically challenged people

· is culturally sensitive, encourages respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence

The Cape Town Declaration is now widely accepted and in 2007 it was adopted by the World Travel Market for World Responsible Tourism Day. The Cape Town Declaration highlighted the steps the industry should take in order to become more responsible, but it was unable to quantify or measure any progress.

Sustaining Tourism define responsible tourism as “any form of tourism that can be consumed in a more responsible way.” The key to responsible tourism is not in providing zero-waste products or avoiding all impact on local communities.

The idea is to move toward behaving as responsibly as possible.

Industry professionals in Vietnam are also addressing the issue. The Responsible Travel Club (RTC) formed in 2009 by individuals dedicated to “building, practicing & developing responsible travel for sustainable growth in tourism to all regions in Vietnam.” In this article we’ll explore how organization such as RTC make operating responsibly much less of a challenge.

Operating responsible tourism activities will always come with its own set of challenges in Vietnam. How do you, as someone that wants to provide responsible tourism products to your customers, navigate these challenges?

Here’s how:

1. Look at the experience of the potential partner

This is probably the most obvious point on the list, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Always remember to look at the history of the company, how long it’s been established, and inquire about any other partnerships they have with international companies.

Companies that have a strong reputation, and thus have something to protect, often make the best partners in Vietnam. If they have demonstrated partnerships with other, well-respected companies from around the world then that’s even better.

Sadly, it’s quite common for newer companies, or companies that don’t value their reputation, to try and make a play for a larger chunk of your custom by cutting you out of the relationship. This can be very frustrating when you’ve spent so much time and money on building the relationship in the first place. It’s also not sustainable practice for the industry.

Companies that have been around for a while are more likely to understand that this isn’t a sustainable way of doing business and will respect you as a long-term partner.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to avoid new companies in Vietnam. It just means that you need to take extra care.

New companies are also less likely to be follow the right rules and regulations. Around 70% of small- and medium- sized companies don’t have adequate business knowledge when they start out and instead they learn as they go. It’s common for these companies to focus on revenue generation for the first few years by investing heavily in their sales team and neglecting the rest.

Regulations on the tourism industry are strict in Vietnam, but the authorities don’t always have the resources to enforce them. This makes it relatively easy for companies to ignore the regulations and flout their legal requirements.

If you’re going to make a long-term partnership in Vietnam, it goes without saying that you need to make sure that they’re obeying the law.

Remember that you can ask to see licenses from the tour guides they use or registration certificates required by the Vietnam government. If the company withholds documents like this, you have good reason to be suspicious.

2. Think about how the potential partner positions itself

Products like bird-watching photography tours or swimming tourism itineraries can be considered niche. But we know that responsible tourism is not niche, and that it transcends visitor types, from budget backpacker to discerning culture seeker to exclusive luxury traveler.

Be careful with companies that position themselves as “responsible” without qualifying their position in the market in Vietnam. It’s virtually impossible for a company to do everything and still maintain responsible products.

It’s more realistic if a company can explain what they are good at — whether its experiential travel or adventure travel — and then communicate that responsible travel practices run across their products. Travel companies in Vietnam should be treating responsible tourism like a theme, not a type.

This is where things do start to get tricky in Vietnam. If the company positions itself as a responsible travel company without specifying the types of tours they specialize in, that should immediately send alarm signals. But then what you should look out for?

Well, the first thing to keep in mind is that no tour types are inherently irresponsible in Vietnam. Here you’ll find tours targeted at backpackers that seek to engage meaningfully with local communities and minimize their impact on the environment. You’ll also find backpacker party cruises that have little concern for the effects on the environment or local communities.

Likewise, there are luxury tours organized by discerning tour companies that select sustainably built resorts that give back to the community. Other tour companies pay no attention to how the hotel was constructed or what damage its presence may be doing.

Even mass-tourism projects are not inherently irresponsible in Vietnam — as long as they are managed well and respect the regulations. Mass tourism projects that behave responsibly can still provide a lot of quality jobs and bolster protection for communities and the environment.

It’s then important to ask the company how responsible tourism is reflected in their products, from tours to accommodation. Don’t be afraid to ask the difficult questions. More on this later.

3. Be wary of cheap contract rates

Sure you need to be competitive, and you need to be able to offer your customers the best prices out there. But when you see that prices are way below what you might expect, or way below what other potential partners are offering, you need to think twice.

The tourism industry in Vietnam suffers from what we sometimes call “unhealthy competition.” There are a lot of players in the market offering similar tours and itineraries, so instead of competing on product they compete on price.

The price is pushed downward, and agents start pressuring their suppliers to lower their prices, too. Both agents and suppliers cut corners to maintain profitability and default on any commitments they may have made to the community and the environment.

This is an issue that many of us in the industry are acutely aware of and working hard to fight against. But the sad truth is that this is still a problem, and is likely to remain a problem for the next few years at least.

If the contract rates you’re getting are too good to be true, it’s probably because they are. Again, this is the time to start asking questions. Why is this five star hotel half the price of that one?

In Vietnam you’ll find that the larger, more established, and generally more expensive hotels are better positioned to invest in sustainable technology, like effective waste management and solar power energy generation. They are also more likely to invest in quality furniture that lasts a decade rather than cheap furniture that needs to be replaced every year.

As professionals in the responsible travel arena, we need to recognize that operating here comes with a price tag. A great race to the bottom has many losers, with the destination itself always being the biggest.

4. Understand how the potential partner selects suppliers

Does your potential partner work off responsible tourism criteria when selecting tour guides, accommodation providers, and transport suppliers? Because they should — and it needs to be comprehensive.

You know that selecting responsible suppliers from outside of the country is a real headache, and that’s why it’s best to partner with a local agency. They are here on the ground and can do the legwork for you, and good companies will already have a database of responsible suppliers.

But always ask how they select their suppliers. You need to ask to see their list of criteria.

The Responsible Travel Club (RTC) in Vietnam does have a list of criteria points to work off when selecting partners, which is why looking to partner with members of this club is a good start. The list is comprehensive, including:

· sustainability management

· legal compliance

· social policy

· human rights

· environmental protection

· community relations

· data protection

The RTC also understands that a “one size fits all” set of criteria points isn’t appropriate, and so they have different lists for partner agencies, transport, accommodation, excursions and activities, tour leaders and guides, and destinations.

If you’d like a copy of this document, you can email the RTC on rtcvietnam@gmail.com.

It’s important to also keep in mind that members of the RTC know that most suppliers won’t meet all the criteria points in Vietnam. So instead of demanding that all criteria points are met, members of the RTC can use this document to compare suppliers and select the most responsible. They also have monitoring and evaluation programs to see how the suppliers are improving year on year.

5. Ask about what training the potential partner carries out

Another question you’ll need to ask is what training your potential partner facilitates. Responsible partners should carry out not just comprehensive, but regular training. Staff turnover is generally higher in Vietnam than in other countries, which is why regular and consistent training is especially important.

And this shouldn’t just include training for internal and management staff; it should also include training for the freelance team, such as tour leaders, tour guides, and drivers.

Just like with supplier selection, this is a good chance to look at any formal affiliations, such as with the RTC. The RTC has an involved training program for tour guides, office staff, and management.

For example, for young tour guides they offer additional training focusing on respecting local communities, which is not usually something they learn when studying for their license in Vietnam. For more experienced tour guides, the RTC organizes farm trips to hotels and resorts that are trying to behave more sustainably.

Additionally, the RTC organizes regular trips to museums, theaters, and workshops that focus on respecting and preserving traditional arts and cultures.

For sales staff, training programs focus on explaining the importance of cultivating and maintaining long-term relationships with partners. For marketing staff, training focuses on things like producing materials that successfully market the product while remaining truthful and honest about what’s on offer.

The RTC also carries out training on how to deal with customer complaints, understanding that in order to be sustainable, staff need to know how to deal with complaints, act on feedback, and avoid repeat mistakes.

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.

Want to get in contact with me?

Leave your email address below: