Thomson and First Choice introduce Vietnam to winter 2017 schedule, add more long-haul destinations

Thomson and First Choice have recently announced the introduction of Vietnam to their winter 2017 programme.

Further, the holiday company Thomson said that the Caribbean islands of St Lucia and Cayo Santa Maria in Cuba – destinations that were introduced to its summer 2017 programme earlier – will also be extended into the winter season. The move comes as the company seeks to build on the 350 percent increase in long haul holidays over the past 10 years.

The island of Phu Quoc is the latest long-haul destination to be added to Thomson and First Choice’s offering. Located off the coast of Vietnam with white-sandy beaches, Phu Quoc is popular for relaxing, and features dense tropical jungle and reefs. With a choice of tour and stay options, Phu Quoc is an option for travellers looking to stay and explore spots like Hanoi, Ha Long Bay and Ho Chi Minh City, as well as a trip along the Mekong River to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

The first direct flights to Phu Quoc International Airport from the UK will operate on Thomson Airways’ 787 Dreamliners and will depart from London Gatwick every Wednesday, taking 12 hours to reach the destination.

In addition, as a reported first ever for the UK travel industry, Thomson is introducing multi-centre holidays via its website, enabling customers to plan and book their multi-trip holiday online without having to wait for a confirmation of the itinerary. Costa Rica, Cuba, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Goa are the first destinations available for booking on a dedicated tab on Thomson’s website, which is expected to go live mid-late November.

Mark Hall, Director of Product for Thomson and First Choice, said, ‘Our focus for winter 2017 remains on the growth of our long-haul programme using our fantastic 787 Dreamliner and Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island is a fantastic addition. We are also thrilled to announce the extension of St Lucia and Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba into our winter programme, along with an array of new city breaks and long haul destinations. Our multi-centre holiday offering is an exciting venture and another important part of our continued commitment to offering customers more choice and flexibility seizing the opportunity to deliver what customers are demanding.’

The programme for winter 2017 will be on sale from mid-late November, Thomson said.

Vietnam Airlines to launch direct service from London Heathrow; leaves Gatwick operations

Vietnam Airlines is set to leave Gatwick operations and will launch a direct service from London Heathrow, Heathrow Airport said in a release.

The new Heathrow services will operate to Hanoi on Tuesday and Friday and Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday and Saturday, with the change taking place on all flights from March 31, 2014. New bookings will be available from January 12, 2015.

Starting July 2015, the airline will use its new fleet of 787-9 Dreamliners to operate five weekly services to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The route frequency will be further increased to a daily service at a later date.

The increased frequencies to Vietnam is expected to improve British businesses, benefiting from increased direct access to a market where import demand is expected to grow by around 250 percent between 2010 and 2020 – faster than any other emerging economy, including China.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: ‘We are delighted that Vietnam Airlines has chosen to operate its new Dreamliner 787 fleet from Heathrow, securing regular direct flights from the UK to a vital emerging market. This demonstrates once again that only a strong hub airport like Heathrow, with a mix of premium direct and transfer passengers, can help Britain win the race for growth.

With Vietnam identified by the government as one of the top twenty growth markets for UK businesses, this new route shows how Heathrow expansion is the best solution for the UK economy, creating up to GBP211bn in GDP and 180,000 new jobs.’

Vietnam Airlines CEO Dr Pham Ngoc Minh said: ‘Less than four years after successfully launching the first ever non-stop services between the UK and Vietnam, we are delighted that our passengers will soon be able to enjoy daily flights on the very latest and most comfortable aircraft, from one of the world’s most important, advanced and well-connected international hub airports.’

Vietnam Airlines General Manager UK & Ireland Le Thanh Dzung added: ‘The launch of Vietnam Airlines’ non-stop services from London saw UK arrivals into Vietnam rise by over 40 per cent year on year, and both the leisure and corporate markets have grown steadily ever since. Moving our operations to Heathrow will enable us to offer the increased frequency and capacity needed to build on and cater to this growing demand. As a prestigious global hub airport, Heathrow also provides a perfect platform on which to launch our new, world class product and branding.’

Vietnam Airlines started its services to London in December 2011 using a Boeing 777 aircraft, and has been operating four services weekly from London Gatwick. The busy Heathrow currently has a queue of 30 airlines waiting for slots, and the agreement with Vietnam Airlines reportedly took seven years to materialise.


Additional Gatwick flights from Vietnam Airlines

The growing popularity of Vietnam as a destination for British travellers has been underlined by the announcement that Vietnam Airlines will be increasing its flights from Gatwick for the summer season.

The expansion to the air carrier’s schedule will see an additional weekly service to Ho Chi Minh city, taking the number of weekly flights to that destination to three, while it will maintain its flights to Hanoi at the present two per week.

British travellers’ burgeoning fascination with Vietnam is likely to be further strengthened over the coming months as a number of Anglo-Vietnamese events are scheduled to take place to celebrate 40 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The programme of educational and cultural events is likely to boost the number of British visitors to the Far Eastern country beyond the 100,000 that are currently making the trip each year, and Vietnam Airlines is anticipating the increase with its new flight.

The head of airline relations at Gatwick Airport, Matt Wood, said, ‘We are delighted that Vietnam Airlines has decided to expand its services from London Gatwick during the summer months, ensuring that both business and leisure passengers now have even more choice of when to fly to this fantastic destination. Air links to high-growth markets such as Vietnam are essential in ensuring that the UK can compete and make the most of the significant trade opportunities available with key emerging markets.

Gatwick continues to demonstrate that it can open up these links but also, by working closely with our airlines, make them a success.’

Vietnam tourism bans unsafe wooden boats

The government of Vietnam has banned wooden boats that were considered to be unsafe for tourists.

The new regulation will mean that building new wooden tour boats equipped with sleeping cabins will be banned from May 1, 2013. The government launched the initiative following a number of accidents that have claimed lives since 2011.

The ministry of Transport has specified that boats providing tourists with overnight accommodation, along with floating hotels and restaurants, must be built of qualified steel, aluminium, glass-fibre reinforced plastic, reinforced cement or reinforced concrete, and the use of wood has to be phased out. This will mean that owners will not be allowed to build new wooden boats, or be allowed to transform existing wooden boats.

Operators originally used wooden tourist boats for a range of purposes. During the tourism boom, these boats were transformed into floating accommodation to cater to the needs of the increasing number of tourists. Often the hastily transformed boats did not adhere to safety norms, and when accidents occurred the lives of tourists were put at risk.

The new regulations state that the number of life jackets on tourist boats must be twice the number of passengers on board, with half of them available in bedrooms and the remainder in dinning, bar and working decks. Moreover, additional life jackets for children should also be made available. Each boat must have at least eight lifebuoys, four of which must have connecting lines, placed on the boat sides. Life saving equipment must be sufficient for all of the people on board.

Similarly, floating hotels and restaurants must have life jackets available for all guests. The number of life jackets for children must be 30 percent of the number of guests. Boats and floating structures also need to have water level indicators that will give sound and light alarms when the water level at the deck reaches 300 millimetres under all circumstances. The document also says that owners need to renew their facilities periodically.

At present, most overnight tourist boats are made of wood.

Vietnam busy developing holidays for Aussies

The tourism department in Vietnam is busy developing holidays for Australians.

The tourism department said that it is developing programmes and packages to attract more tourists into the nation. However, there would be a special emphasis on attracting Australian tourists because Vietnam has been a favourite destination for travellers from Australia. The nation now has high class hotels and resorts, beaches and ethnic cuisine, which has been a hit with tourists worldwide.

Tourism statistics show that the nation receives 300,000 Australian tourists yearly. Further, it is also seen that the number of tourists is increasing at an average of 10 per cent annually. Members of the tourism department in Vietnam said that Australians are, of late, becoming increasingly interested in Vietnamese food and culture, noting that Australians are looking for authentic experiences in Vietnam and a deeper understanding of the country’s culture, food, history and everyday life.

Vietnam is not a mass-market tourist destination, with most travellers interested in the local culture. The tourism department said that the nation is becoming more and more recognized as a safe and favoured destination for high-end Australian tourists.

Vietnam has launched a new campaign to attract tourists from all over the world under the slogan of ‘Timeless charm.’

Vietnam Finds Favour With British Tourists

Vietnam is a new favourite destination for British holidaymakers, according to a recent report.

The UK’s Post Office, a mail delivery organisation that also deals in travel currency, has released a report stating that Vietnam’s currency, the Dong, is the fastest growing foreign currency for tourists, emphasising the fact that many more Britons are visiting Vietnam this year.

Sales of the dong during this summer have increased by 68 percent compared to the same period in 2011, while an air service from London Gatwick Airport to Hanoi Airport, operated since December 2011 by Vietnam Airlines, has also been a factor that has helped to drive up the numbers of UK travellers that are visiting the Asian country.

Andrew Brown, the head of travel money for the Post Office, said, ‘It may be no coincidence that the destinations which have notched up big increases in currency sales during the summer have been ones where sterling has most surged in value.

The boom in demand suggests that holidaymakers are becoming increasingly canny and watching exchange rates as well as seeking out keenly-priced packages before deciding on their destination.’

Another currency that have seen a significant rise in demand in the UK is the Brazilian real, the sale of which has increased by around 60 percent in the summer compared to the same time last year. The influx of British tourists to Brazil has also helped to raise Brazilian hotel room rates by around 31 percent since the summer of 2011.

Currencies that have also registered an increase in demand in the UK are the Mexican peso, the Hungarian forint and the Croatian kuna.


Tourists said to have less restroom facilities in Vietnam

Tourists visiting Vietnam could face problems with restrooms, as it is believed that the nation does not have enough to cater to the increasing number of visitors.

It is believed that restrooms at tourist destinations in Vietnam only meet about 30 percent of demand, and that this could affect tourists’ perceptions of the country as well as affecting the environment. The issue has attracted the attention of the nation’s top tourism officials.

During a videoconference that was held recently between tourism officials and experts from Ha Noi, HCM City and Da Nang, it was decided that the matter would receive immediate attention from all parties. The officials agreed that they would create a detailed plan to build enough public rest rooms to serve tourists. The nation’s minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Hoang Tuan Anh, made a commitment that investment in public rest-rooms for the tourism sector would receive top priority from the authorities this year.

Last May, the ministry asked the People’s Committees of centrally governed cities and provinces including Ha Noi, HCM City, and Da Nang to design plans for, and boost the construction of, public restrooms. Once the orders and plans are put into practice, it is expected that by the end of this year at least 50 percent of tourist destinations will have public rest-rooms of the expected quality. Taking the initiative further, it is expected that within two years, all tourist destinations across the country will have qualifying rest rooms.

The conference of concerned ministers also discussed other measures aimed at enhancing tourism in the nation, including measures to contain the degradation of the infrastructure, improper conservation of historical cultural sites and shortage of staff.

Vietnam is making significant efforts to enhance the nation’s tourism and has been promoting its attractions at international forums.

Vietnam tourism boosted by animal cruelty

Nha Trang is one of the most beautiful beach resorts that the diverse country of Vietnam has to offer. Golden beaches stretching for miles lined with tropical palms draw thousands of tourists, both from the West but also from Asia as well.

But what you don’t expect from this idyllic location is the darker issue of animal cruelty for tourist purposes, which is rife in the country, and many other areas of Asia.


Along with exports of rice, the economy of Vietnam relies heavily upon the steadily increasing influx of tourists and since the Vietnam War has ended the country has been doing its best to transform its image from a war torn land of despair to the former glory that it once was.


Vietnam has an abundance of natural beauty and many areas of interest for tourists yet the tourist board is constantly looking for new ways to attract and keep attracting more and more visitors.


A solution to this need is the investment in tours and excursions, using the natural resources available. River cruises along the Mekong Delta, jeep rides to the incredible sand dunes of Mui Ne and daily bus tours to the historical ruins of My Son are top of the excursions however not content with exploiting the natural beauty the tour operators are answering to the demands of tourists and have began to worrying exploit their animals as well.


A tour that I took when I visited Nha Trang was sold to me as the ‘Three Island Tour’ and promised a relaxing and enjoyable afternoon cruising around three separate islands.


For the embarrassingly small fee of the equivalent of £6, I boarded a small boat along with 30 other tourists, including surprisingly only one other Western couple.


The boat ride was heavenly and I was looking forward to exploring our first of the ‘three islands’ however what I witnessed when we arrived was not what I had first expected.


We were taken to a large pen full of saddled ostriches. We were actively encouraged to pay a small supplement in exchange for a ride on these shabby looking birds. At least half of the group took part, excited at this novelty and no doubt the excellent photograph opportunity.


After this bizarre section of the tour we were then taken to the second island where there was an opportunity to buy pellets and feed tame deer which were roaming the island freely. This was a hit with the tourists and I must admit it was a great experience to get so close to these notoriously shy animals.

Until, three of the tour staff jumped on a young buck, pinned it to the ground whist a fourth member of staff began to saw at its partially grown antlers with a hand saw.


The staff assured me that this was for the safety of the tourists but I could see that some of the guests on the tour were physically distressed at the casual manner that this somewhat heavy handed practice was taking place, especially as the buck was making loud, distressed noises.


The final island of the three really forced me to question what I had paid for and what causes my money was actually funding.


The third or ‘monkey island’ as it was called was inhabited by hundreds of monkeys who were roaming freely around the area, and clearly weren’t intimidated by the tourists. In fact, in an obscure role reversal several tourists were intimated by the confidence of the monkeys, especially when they jumped onto people’s shoulders and made swipes at cameras and other belongings.


The finale of the tour found us all gathered around an outdoor arena surrounded by benches where we were to sit, ready to witness the ‘animal show.’


Black bears with muzzles and wearing fez hats cycled around on tiny bicycles, which were attached to them by a chain around their necks and small monkeys dressed in tracksuits performed tricks such as tightrope walking and handstands.


Dogs, goats and more monkeys performed in this bizarre and distressing show, all the while being applauded and received by hoots of laughter from the audience.


The finale of the show involved a sorry looking elephant, chained at the foot balancing on a stool on one leg.


For me this was enough, and whilst the rest of the tourists were taking photos and tipping the animal trainers I walked around to the back of the area and saw more animals chained up in cages.


In Vietnam, practices and shows of this kind are the norm and provide impressive entertainment and a great way of making money and as the tourism increases I fear shows of this kind are only going to increase too.


Its obvious that the animals are mistreated but it is a case of clashing culture as in the East animals are not regarded or protected in the same way as the West.


The issue is a sensitive one as, to a westerner like myself I was appalled at the sights I was seeing, however clearly the tours sell well and the novelty of seeing animals perform in this way pulls in the tourist and allows the people of Vietnam to make a living for themselves as well as helping the countries economy. I wholly support the people who are attempting to escape the poverty they live in, yet we have to ask ourselves at what point does the ends justify the means, and whether the mistreatment of these animals is really the only solution.


Article by Lauren Probert

Bring legends to life in Vietnam

It all began as a legend. Back in time, in a land where the mountains meet the sea, a beautiful, young fairy, Au Co, falls in love with Long Quan, the Dragon Lord of the Sea. Their children, better known as the Hung Kings, became the early leaders of ancient Vietnam.

In March 2012, Halong Bay’s premier cruise provider, Bhaya Cruises, will be launching two unique, new vessels dedicated to the “Mother of Vietnamese Civilization,” which will soon become legends themselves. The Au Co is the first and only luxury operator to offer a 3-day, 2-night cruise in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Edgar Cayanan, Cruise Operation Manager, said: “The Au Co plans to set new standards in terms of luxury. It will present a journey guaranteeing its guests an experience of a lifetime. The Au Co’s daily trip will not only lead through the natural wonders of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site,Halong Bay, it will also discover the Bays of Lan Ha and Bai Tu Long. Cat Ba Island and its renowned National Park will also be revealed.”

The vessels combine state-of-the-art safety standards and innovative Oriental design, providing luxury and dedication in every detail. Each ship has 32 spacious cabins of minimum 20 square meters each. It also boasts private balconies and well-equipped bathrooms.

The numerous activities en route, the culinary experiences, and the atmosphere will please both the active traveler and those just seeking pure relaxation. Whether you enjoy the stunning scenery, a wellness treatment, or a glass of wine from the Chef’s exclusive selection, the trip promises to be an unforgettable one.

Tran Thanh Nam, CEO of the group, said: “The Au Co strives to provide minimum impact on the local environment and will operate under the concept of sustainable tourism. It’s the owners’ major goal and commitment to support local communities and conserve the beauty of the Gulf of Tonkin for future generations.”

The Au Co’s launching ceremony in Hanoi will take place on August 18 in Hanoi and on August 23, 2011 in Hochiminh City. Travel agents, tour operators, and the press are welcome to meet the Au Co team at IFTM Top Resa in France (September 20-23, 2011) at booth number N11 pavillon 7.2; ITB Asia in Singapore (October 19-21, 2011) at booth number D10, Hall 601; and WTM in UK (November 7-10, 2011) at booth number AS786.

Could Travel Bridge Vietnam’s Economic Gaps with the West?

Over the last decade, Vietnam has emerged as one of Asia’s most accessible and exciting travel and leisure destinations. It’s an unusual development, particularly as the country was one of the world’s most tightly controlled and economically inaccessible just twenty years ago. As Vietnam increases its ties with the United States, the surge in international visitors could speed up development.

It’s the summer of 2010, and Saigon’s large boulevards are showing signs of rapid development and economic improvement. While the rest of the world has spent the last three years fighting off major recessions, Vietnam has been in a state of nationwide development and economic improvement. The economic capital’s streets are teeming with activity, much of it dedicated to tourism and travel.

An estimated 4.2 million tourists visited Vietnam in 2008 – a huge increase from figures released in the previous decade. Development of numerous high-end hotels in Saigon and capital Hanoi seems to be speeding up the process even more significantly, with Vietnam eyeing up Thailand’s fourteen million visitors annually as a potential target.

While the country’s rapidly developing economy brings in the bulk of its income, many within the country believe that exposure to international visitors could help Vietnam’s educational sector and economy. The country, previously a tightly controlled communist economy, is now one of the most open and trade-based in the world, taking on investment capital from the United States and Europe.

Economists claim that international exposure has helped Vietnam’s development, citing its recent military cooperation with the United States as proof that economic interests can override national rhetoric and history. With tourism constantly increasing and overseas investment arriving at speeds unheard of internationally, it seems as if travel could be a major economic bridge for Vietnam.