Outbound tourism remains in good health, with millions travelling out of the country each year despite the protracted economic woes.

The HCM City Culture, Sport and Tourism Department said last year some 470,000 people visited Cambodia while 500,000 each went to Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia .

Around 215,000 tourists chose to travel with the city's top 10 travel firms, it said.

Vietnam, especially HCM City, has become key markets for many countries in the region, it added.

Vu The Binh, head of the Vietnam Society of Travel Agents (VISTA), was quoted by the Sai Gon Economic Times, as saying that tour operators have enough customers for airlines even if they double the number of flights to Malaysia and Singapore.

State-owned Vietravel said it had 700,000 customers for its outbound tours last year, up 25 percent year-on-year.

Nguyen Minh Man, deputy director of Vietravel's marketing and communication department, said: "Our tours to Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia continued to develop at a stable rate. The number of visitors to the US, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Egypt doubled last year."

According to VISTA figures, there are around 1,000 travel agents in the country now, with 70 percent of them offering outbound tours.

The business was worth 658 billion VND (31 million USD) for Saigontourist and 1.4 trillion VND (66 million USD) to Vietravel, the two biggest players.

Insiders are confident it would continue to grow this year despite the continuing economic problems, explaining it is due to cheap prices and good service.

While foreign companies organised a slew of promotions, prices of domestic tours were very high, analysts said.

A senior Vietravel official said that was why fewer people chose domestic travel, pointing out that HCM City tours to Cambodia and Vung Tau cost the same.

Tour operators also blamed the lack of close cooperation among the transport and hospitality industries and the Government in Vietnam that enables foreign countries to offer cheap tours.

Binh said that without co-ordinated top-down management, Vietnamese tourism can not offer cheap prices or high quality.-VNA