Tourists in Tourism a long way from its potential

Tourism a long way from its potential

Tourism a long way from its potential

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Although Viet Nam is a huge attraction as an overseas destination, the country's tourism industry is still struggling to make the best of its resources. Trung Hieu reports.
Le Van Bon, 50, a farmer in Di Tho hamlet, works all day making bamboo fishing baskets.
As well as selling his products to fishermen from nearby provinces, Bon and his neighbours now make smaller versions of the baskets to sell to tourists as souvenirs.
Di Tho hamlet in O Mon District, Can Tho Province is a well-known destination on the Mekong Delta. Traditionally, during the annual floods, farmers from An Giang, Dong Thap, Soc Trang and other nearby provinces commute there by boat to purchase fishing baskets.
Recently, tourists have started visiting the area by bus and then hiring bicycles to see the surrounding countryside.
Throughout the year, locals busily prepare materials for the high season of making fishing baskets, that lasts from August to November.
Bon says during the season, villagers sell thousands of fishing baskets each day.
"They are a unique product of this river region, so we also make the smaller sized baskets for the tourists who visit our handicraft village."
Visitors then travel on their bikes to visit Ba Rui hamlet where they make earthen ovens, Tan Phu hamlet that's famous for its rice cakes, and the botanical­ gardens on Tan Loc islet.
On this islet, tourists visit old houses built before 1900, where they can see old items that typify the Vietnamese lifestyle of the time. They then continue to visit Thom Rom hamlet where people make fishing nets.
Lam Van Son, director of Can Tho Tourism Company, says the attractiveness of this tour is continuity, as visitors move from one handicraft village to the next.
"These jobs, like making fishing baskets, earthen ovens and fishing nets, are typical jobs of the rural areas in the Delta. Visitors can travel by bicycle through gardens and along canals, enjoying nature and the fresh air. I believe anyone who tries it will enjoy this tour."
Like these areas, almost every locality in Viet Nam has its own tourism potential.
The country has an uncountable number of beautiful landscapes and historical and cultural sites. Many of them have been recognised as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO such as the Hue ancient citadel, the port town of Hoi An, Ha Long Bay, the My Son relics and the caves in Phong Nha.
Thang Long ancient citadel, recently recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage, will be open on National Day, September 2, as a tourist attraction.
All across the country, there is vast potential for the development of tourism, based on local advantages.
Viet Nam has a wide range of tourist attractions such as eco-tourism, adventure-tourism, cultural and historical tours, trekking and medical tours among others.
Central Viet Nam is home to four World Heritage Sites: Phong Nha, Hue, Hoi An and the My Son relics – which form the "Heritage Route", ideal for those who wish to take in history and beauty at the same time along the stunning coastline.
Standing out from the rest, Nha Trang is one of the 20 most beautiful bays in the world and Lang Co Bay is in top 30 while the sea at Da Nang has been compared to Pattaya in Thailand by Australian tourism experts.
As for visitors who want to study relics and architecture, Central Viet Nam boasts the 1000-year-old system of ancient Cham towers that can be found from My Son (Quang Nam) to Binh Dinh, Nha Trang and Binh Thuan.
Visitors can also enjoy old wooden houses in Hoi An, where the architecture is a mixture of Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese styles while the ancient citadel, pavilions, royal tombs and pagodas of Hue speak for themselves.
While the Central region has the advantages of the coast and its architectural wonders, the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) attracts visitors with its immense jungles, diverse and interesting ethnic minority groups, festivals and gong culture.
During the day, tourists can join in moving buffalo-sacrifice rituals or go on elephant rides. At night, they can sit in the rong (community house), listening to the elders telling epics, whilst sipping can rice wine to forget their troubles and let their souls wander into a mystical world.
Bio-tourism, anthropological tours, trekking and historical tours are all on offer in the Central Highlands.
Nevertheless, in many regions, local tourism is still underdeveloped.
According to statistics from the National Administration of Tourism, 80 per cent of foreign tourists choose the sea as their destination when they visit Viet Nam but a lack of planning has turned many beautiful beaches into exclusive resort areas.
In just 15 years, Mui Ne in Binh Thuan Province has been transformed from a deserted beach into a popular destination for both foreign and domestic visitors. The 15km beach has been monopolised by resorts and restaurants and is no longer accessible to everyday tourists or locals.
This increase in resorts can be also seen in Binh Thuan, Quang Nam, Da Nang, Phu Quoc and especially Ba Ria-Vung Tau, where many restaurants block the view of the sea.
In Binh Thuan Province, there are around 120 resorts located cheek by jowl along the beach which leaves no way for residents to get to the sea.
In the Central region and Tay Nguyen it's time for strategic investment in local transport infrastructure, hotels, and service quality because at present there are only four cities in the region that have good tourism infrastructure: Da Nang, Hue, Da Lat and Nha Trang.
Other regions are favoured by nature, but the infrastructure just isn't there.
Whenever Cambodia is mentioned, people immediately think of Angkor Wat but Viet Nam does not have a similar national symbol. If investment was made into Ha Long Bay, Hue or one of the other large tourists attractions, it would create a symbol for Vietnamese tourism that would be beneficial for the industry.
The tourism industry in Central Viet Nam often has to face a "winter holiday" from September to January.
Seasonal storms and rain play a large part in this but another important reason is that the tourism sector lacks services, sports and entertainment which are generally found by the sea.
Viet Nam also lacks typical souvenirs that are indicative of the country.
Mai Linh, a souvenir saleswoman in HCM City's Ben Thanh market, says many of the souvenirs she sells are Chinese products.
"Vietnamese souvenirs like handbags, bamboo baskets, paintings, statues, porcelain products, masks and puppets are very basic and cannot compete in terms of quality and price compared to imported products," she says.
This is the reason many foreign visitors unwittingly buy souvenirs made in China and Thailand.
Viet Nam still has a lack of entertainment and shopping complexes, so foreign tourists have a limited choice of where to spend their money, that's why their spending in Viet Nam is very low, says deputy director of the Hapro Travel Company, Nguyen Chi Thanh.
"Statistics show that the average tourist spends about US$500 in Thailand, but in our country it's only about $100. Even Vietnamese tourists spend more money abroad than many foreign tourists spend in Viet Nam.
"Ways of making foreign tourists spend more during their time in Viet Nam has been discussed for years, but solutions have not been approved," he says.
Thanh adds that Vietnamese souvenirs are boring and many typical products are too big and heavy for tourists.
Nguyen Thi Lan, a lacquer painting seller in Hang Ngang Street, says foreign tourists at her shop mostly buy small items at a price of US$5-10, and occasionally, products worth $100-300.
"They rarely choose big products, because paintings made of wood and attached with stones or shells are heavy and troublesome to transport by air as tourists face having to pay for excess baggage," she explains.
According to the Tourism Development Research Institute, Viet Nam's competitive capability on tourism ranks 97th in the world, while Singapore stands in 7th position, Malaysia ranks 32th and Thailand ranks 42th.
Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Tran Chien Thang says Viet Nam has an annual tourism growth rate of 36 per cent, and income from tourism was nearly $4 billion last year.
"But in ASEAN, VN ranks 5th (behind Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia) in terms of international tourists and income from tourism," he adds.
He suggests some im provements that would help Vietnamese tourism become a key economic sector.
"We need to change policies, develop tourism products, expand markets, develop infrastructure and human resources for the tourism sector, protect the environment, preserve landscapes, raise people's awareness and boost international co-operation," he says.


Source: VNS

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