Carol Southall, Senior Lecturer, Staffordshire Business School
As the ‘Connected University’, Staffordshire University has a long history of working with international partners to deliver undergraduate and postgraduate education worldwide. Such links facilitate UK higher education (HE) provision, making HE available to those for whom it would otherwise be unaffordable were they to have to travel to the UK to study.
One such partnership is with the successful British University Vietnam (BUV), located in the north of Vietnam, in the country’s capital, Hanoi.
Now with a new, purpose-built campus in the Ecopark area of the City, BUV is expanding its course provision and consequently its student base, and now attracts students not only from Vietnam but also a small number from countries such as S Korea, Mongolia and Pakistan.
Since 2016, BUV have offered a UK summer school to their students, with small numbers, accompanied by staff members, travelling to the UK to spend a week at Staffordshire University and a further week exploring England.
In 2019, Student Experience funding made it possible for the first time to offer such an opportunity to Staffordshire Business School’s (SBS) Tourism Management and Event Management final year students based at Staffordshire University’s Stoke-on-Trent campus. The fund, with an additional contribution from students, supported the field trip to Vietnam to engage with British University Vietnam’s inaugural tourism conference, 5-6 December 2019 – ‘Vietnam Tourism in the 21st Century’.
Keynote speeches focused on ‘Sustainability’ and ‘The Journey to Cultural Awareness’, delivered by SBS Senior Lecturer and BUV Academic Link Tutor Carol Southall. The Vice Chairman of Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) Dr Ha Van Sieu also outlined the exponential growth in Vietnamese tourism since the country opened its doors to tourism from the West in 1988, from initial arrivals figures of under 93,000 to 16 million in 2019.
With his focus on ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, or rather ‘The Good, Risks and Challenges’, Andrew Nisbet, Cluster General Manager of The Hilton Hanoi Opera and Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi, discussed the importance and development of the hospitality industry in Vietnam and its challenges going forward. Such challenges included staff development and training and the importance of education. Additional challenges identified by other speakers included destination marketing and the comparatively low marketing budget of US$2 million annually, compared to the US$80 million budget invested in Thailand’s destination marketing, as well as airport capacity and alternative (niche) tourism products and services.
Throughout their time in Hanoi, students were able to experience traditional northern Vietnamese food, including delicacies such as Egg Coffee, Bánh mì and Bun cha, the latter being immortalised in the tourist ‘must-eat’ list, after the then US President Barack Obama visited Hanoi and ate Bun Cha at a local restaurant in 2016.
The visit also incorporated key tourist sites such as the jaw-droppingly beautiful Trang An Landscape Complex, recognised by UNESCO and located within the Ninh Binh Province of North Vietnam, near the southern edges of the Red River Delta. Other excursions included a boat trip through Halong Bay, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as local attractions in Hanoi including Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Temple of Literature, Ho Lao prison (the infamous Hanoi Hilton), Walking street, Heritage House, Hoan Kiem Lake, Old Town and the City’s night market.
A highlight of the visit was an evening reception at the British Embassy Hanoi, where students and academics networked with industry to discuss their experiences of Vietnam and possible future opportunities. Visiting Discova, a Hanoi-based inbound Tour Operator, on their last day, students discovered more about tourism in Vietnam, and how a tour operator capitalises on international markets. Discussions were held around how the first Formula 1 in Hanoi in April 2020 will put Vietnam ‘on the World Stage’, evidencing to Event Management students the importance of global events in showcasing a destination. Students also heard more about the challenges faced by Vietnamese tourism organisations and operators, including those of sustainability, repeat visitation, cultural sensitivity and the competitive nature of the MICE market (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events) and the corresponding growth of destinations such as Hanoi, Danang and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) as MICE destinations.
As a connected University it is imperative to consider how we connect, not just locally, regionally and domestically, but also globally. Opportunities for cultural exchange, such as field trips, virtual classes, Skype/Microsoft Teams discussions, staff and student exchange, placements and collaborative academic research projects all enable the interaction required to facilitate cultural understanding and integration, leading to higher levels of cultural competence.
For students on an undergraduate degree there can be no doubt that such a trip is a life-changing experience. Becoming a global citizen and melting the cultural iceberg takes time. We need to understand the journey from cultural sensitivity to increased cultural awareness and cultural competence, and ultimately to global interconnectedness and understanding. But any journey starts with the first step, and for Staffordshire Business School students, their journey to cultural competence is well-underway.