Passport, Signal of Trust and Credibility

A new ranking by a Singapore-based consulting firm saw Vietnamese passport climb up a few positions compared to last year, even though it still belongs to the bottom tier. As of this year, Vietnamese citizens can travel to 61 countries where there is no visa requirement or visas can be issued upon arrival.

What does a passport signal actually?

It signals to the destination countries how trustworthy, credible and civil the passport holder is likely going to be. For instance, a US passport holder can travel to more than 100 countries without visa restrictions since being a US citizen signals that he or she comes with the credibility of the US as a nation. Meanwhile, since Vietnam is a poor country with less credibility, the citizens can only travel to 61 countries visa-free.

That’s on a macro level.

However, I have lived in 3 Western countries and traveled to more than 10 different nations without any blemish on my civil profile, not even a parking ticket. My personal track record should be sufficient for other countries to trust me. Instead, a Nebraskan who never boards a plane before can go to Canada tomorrow without a visa while I will have to apply for one and next-day trips are, hence, out of question.

The asymmetry of information and the lack of credibility of a nation that cascades down to its citizens create a lot of problems and inconvenience for some individuals.

I wish there would be a blockchain-based system in which past records are impossible to alter unless perpetrators like to waste a huge amount of computing power, information is secure and everybody can access. That way, credibility can be assessed on an individual level, not a national one.

By the way, if you are fortunate enough to be born with a powerful passport, do travel. Don’t take it for granted. Explore the world and have some compassion towards less fortunate others. Just like me, many wish to travel freely, but can’t.

News Outlets and How NOT To Stand Up Paywalls

News websites generate revenue mostly through either subscriptions, contributions or ads. Some offer exclusive content via subscriptions such as Washington Post, some offer content for free such as cnbc, bbc and others operate as a hybrid, providing free access to most articles while holding out a select few for only subscribers.

To get readers to subscribe, you need to deliver not only great content, but also a pleasant user experience. TechCrunch has been particularly awful in this regard of late. As a frequent reader or at least I used to be, I am disappointed by their new approach. A short while ago, you could read TechCrunch with your adblock app on. Now, here is what you are greeted on the website

Unless you turn off your adblock or subscribe, you can’t even see what is available. Even Washington Post lets you see the homepage and only shows the paywall after you click on a specific article. But even after you turned off all ads blockers, the annoying message still shows up

Meanwhile, CNBC, which is another major business news outlet, takes a much more user-friendly approach with adblock

The design trick is aimed to implicitly persuade you to turn the blocker off, but you can certainly leave it on and continue reading CNBC articles.

Saigoneer, a news website that covers happenings in Vietnam, has a similar idea to CNBC, though the homepage is covered completely by this message. I turned ads blocker off a few times before I realized that clicking on the black bar will allow me to continue reading it freely.

Or news outlets can just follow what The Guardian does: offer content for free and ask nicely for contribution

Here is the success that The Guardian had from their approach

Today the Guardian has 650,000 regular paying members, 360,000 of which are recurring paying members and 290,000 pay for print papers and digital memberships, according to the publisher. In the last year, it received more than 364,000 single contributions from around 318,000 contributors. In the last three years, the title received 1 million paid donations — a mix of one-offs, recurring paying members, and print sales.

Source: Digiday

In short, I hope that whatever TechCrunch is trying to do has been working for them. Personally, I became frustrated with their paywall and since their free articles are available on other news channels anyway, I have frequented to other websites more and abandoned what used to be one of my favorite sites.

Initiatives in the Tourism Industry in Vietnam

First of all, if you are looking for a website to learn more about Vietnam and particularly Saigon, I highly recommend this website – Saigoneer. Its section on street food is a great start. It’s in English and has lots of details.

There are a few upcoming initiatives announced recently in the industry:

  • There will be bi-weekly direct flights form Zurich to Saigon
  • Vietnam Airlines will soon operate direct flights from Danang to Japan
  • Vietnam Airlines is exploring the possibility of direct flights from Vietnam to America
  • Vietnam Tourism Association will soon carry out exams to classify tour guides in the country. Tour guides will be given 3 to 5 stars based on the results of the exams which will be free of charge and voluntary. Also, freelance tour guides are now mandated to be under contracts with authorized tour companies in order to do business
  • BBC Sport reported that a 2020 race in Hanoi, Vietnam was now secured barring an official announcement

Three points here. First, the tourism industry brought in $13 billion in the first half of 2018, an increase of 22% compared to last year. It is huge for a country like Vietnam. We have a lot to offer. A long coast throughout the country. An authentic and exotic cuisine. We have beaches, mountains and Mekong Delta, everything that a tourist can hope to experience. But our tourism has been plagued by the lack of standards in services leading to the poor return rate of guests. Our country is pretty much a myth that is worth exploring once and no more. In business, it costs 6 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain one. This is the same case. Even though the tour guide exam’s effectiveness remains to be seen (we Vietnamese are not known for world class execution), it is a small step towards the right direction. If we want to compete and have more guests return, maintaining high service standards is instrumental.

Secondly, having more direct flights is huge. Thailand and Singapore have two airport hubs in the region and look what the airports have done to their tourism. Direct flights will reduce the hesitation from guests when they have to make a decision on where to visit. Vietnam’s two biggest airports sorely need major upgrade. It’s a pity that some bureaucracy red tape has prevented the expansion of the airport in Ho Chi Minh City. We have the land to do so and the airport is ridiculously right next to the city center. I have been to quite some airports and I haven’t seen one that close to a city center. Nonetheless, having more direct flights will increase our appeal as a destination.

Lastly, I have been hoping for annual international event in Vietnam for years. Singapore’s F1 Grand Prix has been a remarkable success since its debut in 2008. Otherwise, Singapore wouldn’t keep hosting it. A race is usually a combination of music concerts, press conference, other activities and of course the racing itself. With the reach of Formula 1, Vietnam’s brand awareness which has been under-marketed due to lackluster branding and marketing efforts will hopefully be boosted.