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VGTA and the road ahead

The Vietnam Golf Tourism Association (VGTA) was launched in March to help develop, promote and increase the amount of golf tourists to Vietnam. But, what does this actually mean and who will benefit?

Sorry to be a skeptic, but that is my nature and I have my doubts because, after 27 years here, I have seen numerous associations fall by the wayside. They say the “road to hell is paved with good intentions” and I am always suspicious from having been bitten one too many times.

Needless to say, the concept itself is a good one, but there is no doubt that some clubs will benefit a great deal more than others, for example, clubs on the ocean in Danang, Nha Trang, Vung Tau, Ho Tram, Haiphong and soon Phan Thiet once again, but inner city clubs will not fare as well simply due to their location.

The other thing to consider is the style of operations in the various clubs.

The obvious resort clubs, as mentioned above, will most likely have an international manager who has experience in dealing with the various nationalities who will be visiting, and knows what they want in terms of service, amenities and playing conditions.

There is a huge difference.

Inner city clubs have more and more turned to local managers to save money, but as the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for” and this is rather obvious when you visit those clubs and compare them to clubs overseas or in Vietnam with Western management.

As I said in a column a few months ago, this is not from a lack of trying or a lack of intelligence, but from a lack of international experience and that is a difference maker as well.

So, what will this new association do? Will it be more successful in getting off the ground than the VGA (Vietnam Golf Association) which had numerous setbacks during and after its inception? I remember there were many difficulties in getting all the clubs and players on the same page in the beginning and, even today, the VGA still has to deal with a few headaches because it takes time to educate everyone.

I think the VGTA will have a bit more luck in getting off the ground, compared to the VGA, simply because one group was about getting everyone to accept rules, whereas the VGTA is about putting money in everyone’s pocket.

When you mention more money, everyone listens, even people who don’t like you.

However, there is one very big elephant in the room and that is the Taxation Department of the Vietnamese Government and who can derail all the work and effort put in by the clubs and VGTA.

Vietnam has some world class clubs, plus a lot of non-golfing tourist attractions. The entire country has scenic views, historic temples and the like, which would help improve tourism. That is not the issue at hand.

The problem is the price for playing golf in Vietnam when compared to other regional countries. It is much higher in Vietnam due to taxes levied on clubs. I’ve ranted about this in the past, but also put the blame where it belongs – on the clubs themselves for not being honest with their financial record keeping. The government saw many thousands of people playing golf and the clubs showed no revenue and claimed empty pockets. This resulted in the government slapping on a hefty 20% SCT (Special Consumption Tax) to insure it got its money.

Okay, that was then, this is now. We are talking about a different situation than the past and it might be worthwhile for the government to consider special reduced tax rates for licensed “tourist activities” or special tourist areas, which bring in a lot of foreign currency.

It makes no sense to have world class golf courses if tourists decide to go to Thailand because the price is much cheaper. Vietnam must be competitive in pricing if it wants to compete fairly with the other regional countries for golf tourists.

I would also say that, while Vietnamese are very proud of its culture and heritage, the clubs must work harder in educating their employees – especially in understanding foreign languages.

The greatest caddie in the world is useless if he/she cannot communicate clearly with the player. The best food in the world is wasted if the visitor doesn’t know what they are ordering.

The further you move away from tourist areas and big cities, the harder it is to find staff who speak satisfactory English or any other language other than Vietnamese. This is a problem.

The VGTA can succeed and have a very positive impact on golf tourism in Vietnam, but it cannot do it alone. Everybody must play their role.

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