Les Rives is a company in Ho Chi Minh city providing luxury Saigon River tours by speedboat. With more than 10 years of operation, Les Rives has provided thousands of tours on Saigon River for more than 300,000 tourists and most of them are international tourists.
The Covid-19 has caused the number of international tourists to Vietnam to decline significantly and halted tourism. This crisis has greatly affected the business of all enterprises and Les Rives is no exception. While many inbound tourism businesses are forced to suspend operations because there are no international tourists at this time, Les Rives has launched new products in a brand new destination. What has enabled Les Rives to take such a remarkable step?
Destination Review had the opportunity to talk with Ms. Lieu Thi My Hanh, Director of Sales at Les Rives to learn the story behind this new direction and how the business has adapted to overcome the current difficulties.
Les Rives is a company providing local experiences and having won many awards both domestically and internationally. Can you share something about the products and values that have made the name of Les Rives in recent years?
Les Rives has over 10 years of experience in providing speedboat tours on Saigon Rives to hundreds of thousands of international tourists. In Ho Chi Minh city, Les Rives has 25 river tour products combined with land tours in some areas around Ho Chi Minh city such as Can Gio, Cu Chi, Dong Nai and Long An.
Les Rives’s services are designed on the following criteria: attractive products, providing services for guests during the trip as committed, always listening and creating the highest satisfaction as possible for guests and delivering customer services after each trip. It is also Les Rives’s strength.
Our target customers are mostly international tourists who love to experience and visit river areas.
In the context of Covid-19 making international tourists unable to come to Vietnam, how was Les Rives affected and what did you do to deal with it?
The inability of international tourists to Vietnam caused many difficulties for Les Rives. Boats are not in operation but still need regular check-ups and maintenance. There are some tours occasionally but with just a few guests per trip, so the operating cost is even higher than the revenue. Since May, Les Rives has implemented some stimulus measures such as discounts and promotions to attract domestic guests in Ho Chi Minh city. However, it was not really successful.
With my observations over the years working in the tourism sector, Vietnamese travel habit is to travel far away and they are willing to pay a lot of money to travel abroad or to other provinces in Vietnam. The habit of spending a lot of money on a day trip to find experiences is very rare for Vietnamese. Especially, luxury services like those from Les Rives are high-cost, so Vietnamese tourists prefer to travel to other provinces such as Phan Thiet, Da Lat on weekends at the same cost. Facing this situation, we were forced to find a new direction for our business.
So what is the new direction Les Rives has found to continue to exist?
We decided to launch new products which are catamaran tours in Phu Quoc. The launch of catamaran tours in Phu Quoc has been in the 2019 plan but was only in the preparation process at that moment. However, in early 2020, Covid-19 broke out and halted inbound tourism. This made Les Rives’s business on Saigon River is no longer appropriate so we decided to accelerate the rollout of these new products.
Les Rives’s expansion plan in Phu Quoc was originally for serving international tourists. However, with the absence of international tourists due to the influence of Covid-19, we quickly changed our strategy to serve domestic customers. Our target customers are families who go for luxury holidays and customers who are interested in experiences at sea and financially affordable.
Why did Les Rives choose Phu Quoc, the place with lots of differences from the traditional location of Saigon River?
Phu Quoc is a very attractive destination in Vietnam with rich forest and marine resources and many surrounding small islands that create a very lively island chain. In addition, in Phu Quoc, there are many luxury hotel chains such as JW Marriott, Premier Village, InterContinental, Pullman, etc. to attract tourists in premium segment. It takes only about 45 minutes of flying from Ho Chi Minh City, more than 1 and a half hours from Da Nang and about 2 hours from Ha Noi to Phu Quoc. Tourists from nearby localities such as Ha Tien, Rach Gia can also reach Phu Quoc easily through the daily ferry systems. Moreover, with its international airport, Phu Quoc will be the place that can receive international tourists coming back post-pandemic with one month visa-free. Those are all advantages for Les Rives to take and decide to roll out our products in Phu Quoc.
Besides, it is not too difficult for Les Rives to penetrate Phu Quoc market as Vietnamese tourists cannot travel abroad currently due to the pandemic. Therefore, luxury service providers in Vietnam like Les Rives will somewhat have an advantage at this time since they can provide local alternative services with equivalent value and experiences.
What challenges did Les Rives face in the process of launching new products as well as serving new target customers?
During the process of launching new products, we have to constantly change to adapt: adapting to each group of customers depending on the region, adapting to the actual weather conditions, and adapting to constantly creating new products to serve the increasingly diverse needs of customers.
In terms of customers, the shift to serving domestic customers brings about both challenges and advantages for Ler Rives. Unlike international tourists, domestic tourists are not much interested in learning about the culture. They prefer taking photos, checking in and being taken care of while traveling. The menus for domestic customers must be flexible and the service style is also changed every now and then. In addition, the differences of regional culture among groups of domestic tourists are also the points that we always pay attention to for better services.
However, domestic tourists are often more open-minded than international tourists. While international tourists often choose not to express their feelings immediately on the trip but to comment on travel review websites after the tour, domestic tourists are willing to show their feeling right on the trip. Therefore, it is easier to measure their satisfaction and our tour guides can promptly change to take better care of them right at that time.
In terms of product rollout, there are also many challenges, especially weather conditions, to overcome. The island of Phu Quoc is often affected by storms, big waves and monsoons every year so we have to change the departure location every month and always be flexible to suggest alternative tours in case of unfavorable weather to ensure guests’ experiences and to keep the business running as well.
In addition to the four products of watching coral reefs by boat, we also combine them with land tours such as cable cars, paragliding or visit Safari, Vin Wonders and other attractions such as Phu Quoc Prison, fish sauce factories, pearl production and pepper garden. Those combination tours are always flexibly changed to meet customers’ needs.
How do you evaluate the effectiveness of the new product rollout in Phu Quoc so far?
So far, we can be proud that the new products in Phu Quoc have had a certain success. The products combined with land tours have delivered new experiences compared to the traditional trend of just relaxing in Phu Quoc. The customers love and recognize those new experiences, which marks one of our successes. Another success is that despite many challenges, we are still able to maintain our business with the current number of domestic customers.
In the first phase of the new product rollout in Phu Quoc, we do not aim to profit but mainly want to penetrate a new market. Thus, the brand value is very important to us. It is not until the high-quality services and the brand have been recognized will customers build brand loyalty.
With such successful steps in Phu Quoc, what are your plans to continue to maintain and develop business in the future?
In November, we will launch the third boat in Phu Quoc to cater to large groups of customers and prepare for Tet. In the future, we plan to launch new tours in Da Nang and a new tour that allows tourists to go directly from Phu Quoc to Cambodia, which is expected to be the main product for international tourists.
With recent experience of quickly adapting, can you give some sharings for other tourism businesses to overcome this difficult period?
The only experience Les Rives has is the dedication to customer service, dedication to profession and meticulousness in each product. Each employee in Les Rives always serves customers with a passion for the profession that resembles our desire to survive, adapt and continue to develop the brand. In my opinion, for not only the tourism sector but any sector, once we have the will, passion and determination, we will have great motivation to always improve ourselves and overcome challenges.
Thank you very much for your interesting sharings!