Hospitality businesses must be alert to new opportunities during tough economic times by changing their business strategies and researching the market, experts said at the second annual Hospitality Management Conference held on Nov. 15 in HCM City.

Co-organised by Irving Seminar and Training in collaboration with the LEAN media group, the conference attracted the participation of domestic and foreign investors, hotel owners and operators, consultants, and service and technology providers.

According to Grant Thornton's Vietnam Hotel Survey 2012, at least 50 percent of respondents last year said the hospitality and leisure market was an attractive sector, but that dropped to 38 percent in the fourth quarter of this year.

Kenneth Atkinson, managing partner of Grant Thornton Vietnam, said the first few months of 2012 showed signs of a slowdown in the five-star market, with several hotels reporting lower occupancy and room rates than last year.

This was due in part to new room supply in the market and also a change in the arrivals mix, with more inter-regional tour groups preferring three – and four-star hotels.

Last year, internet bookings grew only 4.7 percent. The most popular method used to reserve hotel rooms in 2010 and 2011 was through travel agents and direct reservations. The latter accounted for nearly 30 percent of bookings in 2011.

There was a major drop of 7.9 percent in individual tourists, from 40.1 percent to 32.2 percent, in 2011.
The number of visitors joining tour groups and attending conferences increased to 29.1 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively, last year.

This year, Vietnam targets 6.5 million international tourist arrivals and 32 million domestic tourists, with revenue of 150 trillion VND (7 billion USD).

More than 47 percent of hotels surveyed said they were planning to expand or improve facilities over the next two years.

In the 2012-13 period, an additional 5,000 rooms from three-, four – and five-star hotels will be put on the market in the north, central and southern regions.

More efforts are needed to promote Vietnam in the North American and European markets, Atkinson of Grant Thornton said.
A lack of skilled labour resources and poor public infrastructure are problems facing Vietnamese tourism. Restricted tourist visas on arrival also prevent the industry from attracting more tourists. "The Government's budget to promote Vietnam tourism in other markets is limited for ads on international channels as well as for tourism fairs and opening tourism representative offices in other countries," he said.

At the conference, Raymond Clement, managing director of Savills Hotels in Asia Pacific, said that Asian hotel property markets has been relatively resilient to the global economic uncertainties, given strong domestic demand and wider policy options.

Major locations such as Japan and China remainethe focus of hotel investors in the region. Hong Kong , Singapore and Seoul would all be on the investors' radar in the near future.

The investment volume in Vietnam 's hospitality sector saw an increase from 1 percent last year to 3 percent in this year.-VNA