HO CHI MINH CITY -- Vietnamese tour operator Vietravel and low-cost carrier Vietjet have signed an agreement with Fukushima Prefecture in eastern Japan to fly 15 direct charter flights next spring.
The deal was sealed when the governor of the prefecture recovering from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami visited Vietnam last week. Some 3,000 Vietnamese are expected to visit between February and April, the cherry blossom season, which happens to coincide with Vietnam's Tet new-year holiday, when many travel.
Based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietravel will charge $1,188 per head, a savings of about 30% for a tour that takes in Fukushima, Ibaraki, Mito, Mount Fuji and Tokyo over five days.
Nguyen Quoc Ky, Vietravel's managing director, told the Nikkei Asian Review last month that Japan is its hottest outbound destination. The operator offers some 40 tours there with prices ranging from $1,050 to over $3,400. Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hokkaido and Kyushu are the top destinations.
The average cost of a trip to Japan from Vietnam has fallen by 30% to $1,500 from eight years ago. In a local survey conducted last year, 30% of respondents picked Japan as their most favored destination, ahead of both South Korea, which was picked by 15%, and the U.S., by 14%. Independent travelers, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly common.
According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, some 233,000 Vietnamese visited Japan in 2016, a 26% improvement on 2015 and four times the number seen in 2012. In the year to July, there were 181,900 Vietnamese arrivals, up 28.6% year on year.
Some 6.5 million Vietnamese traveled abroad in 2016, a 15% increase on the year, with average spending of $1,230 per person. The outbound figure is expected to reach 7.5 million by 2021. Vietnam does not release official breakdowns by country, but China, Singapore and Thailand are known to be the most popular destinations, with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan emerging.
Vietnam had the fourth-highest growth rate by nationality for visitors to Japan in the January-June period of 2017, behind South Korea, Russia and Indonesia. South Korea remains well ahead, supplying 3.4 million during the first half of 2017 -- a 42.5% increase year on year. China supplied 3.28 million visitors in the half, up 6.7%, and Taiwan 2.29 million, up 6.1%.
In order to meet its target of 40 million foreign tourists by 2020, Japan has relaxed visa requirements and stepped up marketing. Japan and Vietnam have signed a bilateral memorandum of understanding on tourism promotion that encourages enterprises working in the sector. The target for 2018 is an exchange of 1 million tourists from Japan for 500,000 from Vietnam.