A lack of confidence is one of the factors preventing MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) tourism from fully exploiting its development potential in Vietnam, foreign and local experts agree.

Though this form of tourism has seen rapid growth in recent years, it has not matched that of regional countries, although it has all the conditions to do so, they say.

Vietnam's position is in no way inferior to countries with significantly developed MICE tourism sectors in the Southeast Asian region like Thailand and Singapore; they were cited as saying in a report carried by the Vietnam Investment Review.

MICE tourism would bring benefits many times higher than other forms of tourism, said Gilbert Whelan, former president of the Pacific-Asia Travel Association and director of MICE Club Vietnam.

European MICE tourists spent an average of 700 USD-1,000 USD a day while MICE tourists from Asia spend 400 USD a day, he said.

"The number of MICE groups visiting Vietnam has reached a modest level and does not correspond with the country's inherent potential.

"The country's advertisements in MICE tourism and general images of tourism fail to show signs of confidence," he said.

According to most travel companies, international MICE tourism has not taken much interest in Vietnam because of a lack of four- and five-star hotels, cultural performance centres, shopping venues and special souvenir shops.

Another reason was that the country did not offer systematic training for MICE industry professionals, said Nguyen Thi Tuyet Mai, Public Relations director for Fiditour travel agency.

Nguyen Ba Vinh, senior consultant of the Minh VI Exhibition and Advertisement Services Co Ltd, which represents the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) in Vietnam, suggested that firms involved in MICE tourism co-operate with each other to promote Vietnam as a destination with distinctive features and products that set it apart from other countries.

"Thailand expects to receive 720,000 MICE tourists this year, with estimated revenues of 1.9 billion USD. It is a model that Vietnam should follow," Vinh said.

According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, 25 percent of the 5 million international visitors last year were MICE tourists.

Popular MICE tourism destinations were HCM City, Hanoi, Da Nang, Hue, Nha Trang and Phu Quoc./.