By Robert Bicknell

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December 16, 2007

IAGTO designates Vietnam as great golf destinationÖ

When I read about IAGTO designating Vietnam as an "Undiscovered Great Golf Destination of 2008" I was torn between being happy that someone finally recognised this fact, and screaming in frustration.

As usual, frustration won.

Vietnamese Ambassador to Mexico, Pham Van Que, attended the annual Award Gala in Cancun, Mexico on behalf of the nation and the Vietnam golf industry.

Since arriving in Vietnam almost 16 years ago, I have continually promoted golf in Vietnam to just about anyone who would listen.

Jeff Puchalski has also been tirelessly promoting golf in Vietnam. Together, he and I mustíve given interviews to well over 500 newspapers, and magazines worldwide. Other professionals, such as Lars Holden have also been doing a lot of promotion, especially with the APGA events at his club, Chi Linh Star, over the years.

But itís not enough.

If Vietnam is to reach its true potential as a tourist destination, then we cannot rely on the sole efforts of a few crazy golf professionals, there must be a concerted effort by all parties concerned, including the club owners, tour operators, airlines and the government.

Yes, I know what you are saying... "golf courses always work with tour operators to bring in golf tourists..."

Sorry, but that only scratches the surface because if people donít walk into a tour operatorís office in their home country with the specific idea of coming here, theyíll end up in Thailand or Hawaii.

Therefore, a global marketing campaign needs to be set up to get people aware of the fun and excitement they are missing by NOT being here. People need to be enticed into visiting Vietnam before they arrive at their tour operatorís doorstep.

If someone offered you a free vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go? Most people would say "Hawaii".

Thatís the power of good marketing backed up by a strong tourism industry.

I have nothing against Hawaii, in fact, I have a house there. But I also know that most of Hawaiiís reputation is hype. Phuket, Thailand is actually a much better value and offers amenities that Hawaii cannot even think about...

Iím talking about general pricing and low green fees...what were YOU thinking about?

Hawaiiís tourist industry is amazingly strong and sometimes appears that almost every person in the Hawaiian Islands is somehow involved in the tourist business. They know who puts the food on the table, so everyone works to promote the idea that, as tourist destinations go, Hawaii cannot be beat.

Itís a state-wide concerted effort.

If Vietnam is to gain a reputation as a great tourist spot, everyone must do their share as well to promote the country.

At this moment, more and more high-quality resorts, hotels and golf courses are being constructed. This is a good thing, but itís just the tip of the iceberg.

Relying on a "If you build it they will come, Field of Dreams" strategy is a sure path to underachievement and missing the target, but unfortunately, this is what has been happening in Vietnam to date.

This is also one of the reasons why, instead of fighting amongst ourselves, golf course owners and managers need to work together to come up with a nationwide marketing plan and then get the airlines and government on board.

But even if this comes to pass, the level of service needs to be greatly improved as well.

Golf courses, resorts and 5-star hotels are known to have high standards in this regard, but it needs to go further than that.

Taxi drivers working in high tourism areas need to learn to do more than just drive the car to the right location. They need to know what is happening so they can recommend activities to any customer who asks for recommendations. They need to be able to communicate clearly in multiple languages and know the best restaurants.

Shopkeepers and even noodle shop staff must also lift their standards to keep tourists happy and telling their friends what a great place Vietnam is to visit.

Now, while some of you are probably wondering if I started smoking crack or something, let me tell you that I am as sober as a judge, but I also believe in the strength of the Vietnamese people and the future for the country.

So, we have a lot of work ahead of us.

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