National airline carrier Vietnam Airlines has announced it will continue its special airfare scheme till December 31, 2009. Flights will continue to be available via travel firms that signed up to a tourism demand stimulus programme. This is the second extension of the special airfare programme with airfares set at up to 50 percent of normal prices.The airfare reductions have been applied to flights to HCM City - Hue or Da Nang or HCM City - Vinh or Hai Phong or Hanoi.

In addition, Vietnam Airlines has also announced it will offer airfare discounts for flights on HCM City - Nha Trang (810,000 dong or $47 for return ticket) and HCM City - Da Lat (810,000 dong for return ticket).

The HCM City to Hanoi flight now comes in at 1.65 million dong (nearly $100) return.

As the industry tries to combat the global downturn and its effect on tourism in Vietnam, according to travel firm groups numbers are still low.

In September 2009, the total number of tourists booking tours with discount airfares to northern and central regions was 420.That represents just 23 percent of the previous month's total.

Tran The Dung, deputy head of the travel firms group, noted that most clients booking tours were in groups.

He said: "This is rare thing at this time of year. In previous years, enterprises, schools and organisations have organised tours in June or July. In general though, the number of tourists has decreased gradually in August and September."

Dung believes the number of tourists will increase again in the upcoming months with travel firms continuing to offer 'soft tour fees' thanks to in part to discount airfares.

The second reason behind Dung's optimism is that Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese) always return to visit relatives in the final months of the year.

The general director of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) Nguyen Van Tuan also thinks the decrease in the number of foreign tourists to Vietnam will slow before seeing improvement in October.

Tuan believes the world wide economy will improve and also says the national tourism promotion "Impressive Vietnam" campaign has had a positive effect. He highlights resorts and hotels in Hue City, Binh Thuan province and provinces in the central region where occupancy rates have been slowly increasing.

The number of foreign tourists to Vietnam in the first six months of the year decreased by 19.8 percent. However, the figure in August soared by 16 percent over July which meant only a slight decrease of eight percent in comparison with the same period of the previous year.