An attendee serves during a flight of Vietjet Air from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kham
Passengers aboard a VietJet flight from Hanoi © Reuters

Vietnam is grinding to a halt for the Tet holiday, as millions of migrant labourers head home from the cities for a week of family, food and relaxation.

But among the communist country’s rising middle class, a record number will be flying overseas to see in the Year of the Dog, tour companies say. Outbound tourism from Vietnam has been growing at an annual rate of 10-15 per cent over the past few years, according to Euromonitor.

The trend mirrors that of Vietnam’s large neighbour China, where rising disposable incomes mean tourists are heading to Europe, south-east Asia and other foreign destinations in record numbers.

Ta Thi Thanh Tan, who works for a foreign manufacturing company and tutors in her spare time, will be heading to Angkor Wat in Cambodia for Tet — her first foreign trip and the first new year “that I am not going to my country home”, she said, near the central coastal city of Da Nang. 

Pham Thai Quynh, a marketing officer for a multinational education company who lives in Hanoi, has flown with her husband to the Thai beach resort of Phuket for the lunar new year celebrations. Last year she went to Taiwan, after celebrating the 2016 new year holiday in Hong Kong.

“There aren’t so many times you can have a long holiday,” said Ms Pham, who is 27. “I use every Tet to go abroad.”

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Vietnamese travellers took 7.5m foreign trips last year, with China the top destination followed by Cambodia and Thailand, according to Euromonitor. According to the Vietnam Tourism Association, Vietnamese tourists spent $8bn in 2016 — the latest year for which the data were available — more than double the $3.5bn they spent in 2012.

Grandviet Tour, a tourism operator in Hanoi, said it had organised 700-800 tours for Tet this year, against 500-600 five years ago. Most of this year’s trips were group tours, an executive said, and more travellers were heading beyond south-east Asia than before, to Europe, the US, Japan and South Korea. 

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“People don’t want to save money in their pockets,” said Hoang The Hau, the company’s managing director. “They want to change their lives.” 

The same rising middle class, whose numbers skew towards younger people, are also fuelling demand for consumer goods small and large, ranging from beer and clothing to high-end real estate and cars.

According to Nielsen, the market research group, travel ranks among affluent Vietnamese people’s top three hobbies, ahead of dining out and buying new clothes. The group based its findings on a survey of 300 consumers aged 30-55 in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s two largest cities.

Domestic travel in Vietnam is expanding, too, thanks to the rise of budget carriers such as VietJet, which since its founding in 2011 has won a share of more than 40 per cent of the domestic market. 

“Travelling domestic is getting easier and easier,” said Do Tien Dat, vice-president of VNtrip, a start-up travel agency. “The national trend is nicer, easier, more on time, and one of the main reasons is cheap airline tickets for the young generation.”

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