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Vietnam Weekly - January 18, 2019

Good morning! Thank you, as always, for reading, and I hope everyone's January is going well.

It's been a bit of a quiet week in Vietnam, but I have a feeling the same won't be said of next week.

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Trump-Kim in Vietnam Looking Likely

Right now this is still speculation, but it's looking extremely likely that Da Nang will host the next meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. I discussed this topic in last week's newsletter, and the reporting is looking increasingly firm: the Washington Post has reported that Trump may announce the meeting this weekend, with a potential date in March or April (hi assignment editors!).

Also, James Pearson of Reuters (who knows a thing or two about Korea) reports that Vietnam is preparing to welcome Kim Jong-un for a state visit sometime after the Tet holiday, which falls in early February. I'd guess by the time the next edition of this goes out we'll have a good idea of what's going to happen.

Vietnam's Tourism Boom

With the country becoming an ever-more popular place to visit, tourism figures in Vietnam are exploding, and there's been a good bit of recent discussion over what this all means. 

The South China Morning Post has a piece on South Korean tourism to Vietnam, which grew by almost 50% last year compared to 2017. Koreans are now the second-largest group of foreign tourists, after Chinese. These visitors are particularly concentrated in Da Nang, where golf tourism is big, and Hoi An which, according to the article, welcomed 240,000 Koreans last year, a 70% jump annually.

Hoi An may be the epicenter of Vietnam's explosive tourism growth, and the impact isn't always positive: VnExpress has this on how tour buses are clogging streets in the town.

Finally, Skift has a fairly in-depth look at the insane numbers behind the country's hotel, resort and condotel construction boom - some of these statistics are eye-popping. For example, it took Thailand 25 years to go from 6 million to 15 million foreign arrivals annually, while Vietnam has done that in just seven years. Nearly 40,000 hotel rooms are currently planned or under construction nationwide, but many of those will be added to the same locations everyone goes to: Phu Quoc, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Ha Long, etc. I am very curious to see where tourism goes here in coming years as it continues to rapidly expand.

Keeping Up With The Conglomerates

Let's, what's going on in the world of Vietnam's chaebols this week? (Also someone needs to coin a Vietnamese phrase for this, though it's possible that already exists.)

Bamboo Airways, the carrier launched by resort developer FLC Group last year, finally completed its first commercial flight on Wednesday. The flight delivered 180 customers from Saigon to Hanoi, and Bamboo is in business after the lengthy licensing process forced it to push an official launch back by several months. There are now five domestic airlines operating in Vietnam.

I'll have an Al Jazeera feature on the aviation sector published in the next few days, so keep an eye out for that.

In other news, VinFast, the carmaking arm of Vingroup, has announced plans to launch a new line of automobiles called Pre (short for Premium), which will be a step below their initial Lux (can you guess? It means Luxury) line. 

According to a press release, this line will include seven models, and in an interesting twist, members of the public can vote for their seven favorites out of 35 designs here. The designs aren't exactly groundbreaking, and personally I'd prefer to see the company focus more on electric motorbikes. Introducing 10 new cars (they've already announced three) in the span of a year seems excessive, especially given traffic conditions here.  

Extra Links:

From Tibet to the 'Nine Dragons', Vietnam's Mekong Delta is losing sand (Reuters)

One stitch at a time: Weaving rehab for Vietnam trafficking victims (AFP)

Saigon Postcard No. 13: The Modern Exchange Rate (Saigoneer)

Saigon a hotspot for ivory trade: report (VnExpress International)

From bikes to phones, 'Made in Vietnam' grows with foreign help (Nikkei Asian Review)

Have a great weekend!

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