This article is based on an interview between Patrick Gaveau and Cao Son, CEO of Paradise Group, one of the biggest cruise operators in Ha Long Bay since 2008.
In 2008, the market was not as positive as I expected, said Mr Cao Son. The destination itself was not well known back then. As I travelled to many countries, in some countries they didn’t know about Ha Long Bay. This was due to a lack of promotion and marketing for the destination. Once people came to Ha Long Bay they would love it but many people in the world did not know where it was. We tried to promote not only our cruise but the destination as well, but there was a need for a concerted effort from the local authority and the Vietnamese government to promote Ha Long Bay.
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Many people who come to Vietnam only choose one destination out of many possible destinations, so promoting Ha Long Bay means promoting Vietnam, and vice versa.
Today the number of tourists coming to Ha Long Bay is increasing. Most of them are from China, ASEAN countries and Korea, but I don't see any significant improvement in other markets. We also seem to have more customers from the high-end market who are willing to pay more.
Most Chinese tourists come and stay in hotels on land, and then take a day cruise. There are many more hotels in Ha Long City and Tuan Chau Island to choose from compared to a decade ago.
Currently many people still see Ha Long as a cheap destination, and they do not think that there are luxury accommodations or facilities here, even though this is not true. So the average room rate in Ha Long is still low compared to the quality of the hotels and the cruises. Compared to other destinations or other countries, the quality of facilities and services is really good both on water and on land.
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Activities Added to Attract Longer Cruises
The length of the stay is increasing for the hotels on land. But for the cruise we think that most people still take only one night on the cruise, not because there’s nothing to do in Ha Long Bay (there are more activities being promoted now), but because people have a shorter stay in Vietnam in general. Normally people stay three weeks in Vietnam so they can spend two or three nights in Ha Long Bay. But now they shorten their stay to two weeks or only one week in Vietnam, and in Ha Long they can only stay one night.
Video source: Alexander Travelbum
There are enough activities in Ha Long to keep people entertained for a few days. If you just want to relax, you can take longer cruise of two or three days, or even longer on a chartered cruise to explore the bay in full, enjoy the beautiful little-known beaches and caves. If the weather allows, you can also spend a day cycling around villages on Cat Ba Island. For people staying on land, especially families with kids, there is the new Sun World Ha Long amusement park launched by Sun Group. You can also explore Ha Long City, its markets and streets to know more about local culture and cuisine.
Ha Long welcomes a lot of Hanoi residents during summer weekends as it is one of the nearest beaches to the capital. By the end of June 2018, the new highway connecting Hanoi, Hai Phong and Ha Long will be finished, and it will take only one-and-a-half hours from Hanoi to Ha Long, instead of three-and-a-half hours at the moment.