Time to Pack Your Bags

Ideas for your next holiday from the Travel Expo

Going to a travel expo is my adult version of being a kid in a candy store. Travel expos are great for trip planning because you can access travel experts one-on-one to narrow down which destinations best fit your needs and then further pepper them with questions to craft a customized itinerary. They’re also a great place to collect brochures and travel deals to compare later. Lots of companies also offer specially discounted vacation packages for these types of shows and being there in person means you can even try negotiating for a better deal (e.g. getting additional discounts or added perks thrown in).

Saigonese are lucky to have one of the region’s largest travel expos happening right here, the International Travel Expo Ho Chi Minh City (ITE HCMC), an annual event bringing together travel agents, boards of tourism, hotels and industry-related people. September saw the ninth edition of the ITE, attracting more than 300 exhibitors from 50 destinations, catering to an estimated 18,000 domestic and overseas visitors during the three day event held at the Saigon Exhibition and Convention Centre in D7.

While it takes some patience to navigate the throngs of people crowded around cultural dance performances, raffle contests and live music, all while announcements blare over the loudspeaker, it’s an opportunity to get an overview of what’s on offer. Some of the destinations that caught my eye this year were Yen Tu, the pagoda complex near Hai Phong, the Thung Nham Bird Park in Ninh Binh and the luxe Pandaw River Cruises through Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Then there were the various boards of tourism with creative angles to woo the Vietnamese market.

Bobby Alex, Marketing Manager of Sabah Tourism Board, said that “immersing in the local culture is an emerging trend for young Vietnamese travelers,” highlighting the natural beauty of the northern portion of the island of Borneo. “We’re promoting homestays, culture and nature, like the island of Sipidan known for its world-class diving, as well as the activities around Kota Kinabalu to the north. There are islands just 15-20 minutes from mainland. It’s all about nature – the orangutans, proboscis monkeys and Mt. Kinabalu. We’re targeting the youth group.”

The Spirit of Exploration

Other destinations are similarly targeting Vietnam’s new, upwardly mobile 20- and 30-somethings, those who have traveled to the familiar cities of Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and are now looking for something more exotic.

Huynh Dang Khoa of the Tourism Authority of Thailand says that Thailand is focusing on overland travel from Vietnam for those wanting to travel by caravan or touring bike. “There are now lots of rich Vietnamese who own Ducatis, Harley- Davidsons and other sport bikes. We have Bike Weeks in Phuket, Pattaya and Phitsanulok in the northeast. There are also ground operators who can organize caravans and overland travel making it through borders with no problems. There’s even an option for police escort!”

For the shopaholics, Annie Buenavente, Senior Tourism Operations Officer for the Philippines Department of Tourism, says a trip to the Philippines is the perfect mix of elegant malls and superb beaches. “The Mall of Asia [a 1km shopping center in Manila] is like an airport. You need at least three hours to visit all the stores. Resorts World, a one-stop entertainment center with hotel and casino featuring concerts and entertainment, is just three minutes from airport. The Vietnamese also love the islands of Cebu and Boracay. Just a 35 minute flight from Manila, Boracay has sugary fine pinkish sand with clear water. The best time to visit is between November and February.”

Innovations in travel technology were also a recurring theme. David Tsao, Director of the Taiwan Visitors Association, was excited about the new “Tour Taiwan” app, available for free download in both Chinese and English versions, giving iOS and Android smartphone users easy access to information on events, attractions, accommodation, and transportation. The app features over 16,000 location-based services, including 42 events, perfect for independent travelers with a spirit of exploration.

“Vietnamese travelers are generally gentle people who like to enjoy food, shopping and beautiful scenery. Taiwan’s bullet train on the west coast, along with hot springs, 23 amusement parks, cherry blossoms and the Taiwan Lantern Festival, ensure there is something for everyone,” says David.

Whether you’re a beach bum, adventure junkie or shopping maven, the ITE HCMC has got you covered.

If you missed this year’s expo, mark your calendar for September 11-13, 2014. More info available from www.itehcmc.com.

Bio: Having visited nearly 60 countries as a travel writer and award-winning photographer, James Pham blogs about his adventures at FlyIcarusFly.com

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