Mekong Delta’s tourism fumbles for right way
Mekong Delta tourism, the national tourism year 2008, currently taking place in the Mekong Delta region with various activities throughout the year, is moving toward an important time mark, that is the Liberation Day (April 30).
The organizers target important days of the years to set up landmarks for the year-long program of events, and to build up images for the country's hospitality industry in general and for the Delta's tourism sector in particular.
However, tens of billions of Vietnam dong being spent on the program seems not enough to make a true landmark for the region's tourism development when the tourism sector is still fumbling for a right way for the sector development.
A familiarization trip for tour operators and the media, which was organized by the national tourism year's organizing committee in late February, put forth two options. One was to visit Can Tho's Tri Ton floating market and then to come to Phu Sa Tourist Park to see a fruit garden, and eating and enjoying don ca tai tu (Southern amateur opera) and then back to Can Tho City. The other was to visit a similar floating market named Phung Hiep, and then back to the same attractions.
The trip's purpose was not successful, however, because the primary aim to promote new and impressive traits of Can Tho City's tourism has failed.
Such tours are old-fashioned, and have become too tiring for many tourists, since many provinces and cities in the region such as Tien Giang, Vinh Long, Can Tho have been promoting the same tours and same services to travelers.
Despite the region's strong potential for developing the hospitality sector, the tourism sector still is offering low-quality, repeated products and services to tourists.
The above story is just an example to show part of the trouble for the Mekong Delta's tourism industry. Due to the overlapping products and services, travelers now do not feel the need to travel far and wide in the region to grasp what are on offer.
From tourist centers like Ho Chi Minh City, travelers just need to go to destinations nearby, such as in Tien Giang Province, to capture what is on in the whole region. They should not spend more time and money to see the same products and services.
At issue is the lack of initiatives from provincial tourism authorities in bringing out new products for traveler, and they simply copy what are already available in nearby localities.
Another example of this overlapping situation is a tour that offers tourists the chance to become amateur farmers to catch fish on small rivulets or small canals crisscrossing gardens, and to mingle themselves with locals in their daily activities.
After Ho Chi Minh City's neighboring province of Tien Giang launched the tour some time ago, Vinh Long Province followed suit by offering exactly the same tour. The repetition can also be seen in other tours to occupational villages, which are largely limited to coconut gardens, handicraft villages, and something like that.
Laments Nguyen Minh Quyen, deputy director of Ben Thanh Tourist Travel Service Center, "The provinces are stepping on each other's toes in offering products. Therefore, they are in a situation of internal competition. You can travel to Tien Giang, Vinh Long or Ben Tre, and see the same thing for tourists in all the three provinces".
A lost chance
The national tourism year is a big chance for developing infrastructure, products and services, and to promote the tourism image but the region seemingly has not learned how to grasp the opportunity to boost the industry.
Ironically, the tourism sector is even holding a mistaken concept of tourism products. For example, the tourism year's organizing committee has cited events such as the Agriculture Variety and Equipment Exhibition, the Construction Exhibition, and the International Agriculture Fair as highlighted events for tourists and mentioned them as main activities of the tourism year.
The lack of accommodation facilities is another trouble that makes the region less attractive for tourists.
Says Vo Anh Tai, director of Saigontourist Travel Service Co., "excluding Can Tho and My Tho, which has some standards hotels and restaurants, other localities in the region are lacking hi-end hotels so it is difficult to attract tourists".
Tourism officials of the region and the head of the country's travel department also agree with above comments from tour operators.
"The lack of quality products have hindered tourism development in the region," says Vu The Binh, head of the travel department under Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, at a recent conference on travel development in the Mekong Delta Vietnam.
While the region boasts huge potentials for tourism, it is attracting just 15% of the total number of international tourists to Vietnam, or 630,000 compared to over four million international arrivals in Vietnam last year.
The tourism growth in the Mekong Delta is also lower than that in other regions of the country, meaning the Mekong Delta will lag farther behind other provinces in the future.
Lack of entrepreneurship
Many experts agree that the lack of entrepreneurship and the shortage of travel firms in the Mekong Delta are the main reasons that make the tourism industry there less attractive for foreigners.
The whole region has only 18 travel firms compared to the total number of 629 international travel companies nationwide, accounting for a mere 2.8%. Among these provinces, Tien Giang alone has nine travel companies, while six other provinces even do not have a travel firm in their localities.
Furthermore, these companies even do not have the required ability to attract international tourists, so around 95% foreign visitors to the region are arranged by international travel companies in tourism centers like Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi Vietnam.
"The main reason behind the poor number of international arrivals in the region is the lack of international travel companies there as well as their unprofessional operations," Binh from the travel department says.
As it will take time for the Mekong Delta provinces to establish travel firms and to improve the professional performance of existing enterprises, the more suitable approach in the immediate future should be to improve the available products and services there, according to experts.
"If local travel firms spend much money in attracting international tourists directly, it will be very difficult for them to develop products and services at the their destinations," says Tai from Saigontourist.
According to him, forging closer cooperation between travel companies in the Mekong Delta and international tour operators elsewhere in the country will make a win-win situation for both.
In fact, international tour operators in major cities need Mekong Delta companies to provide new information, and arrange services for their guests in the region. From this cooperation, travel companies in the Mekong Delta region will also learn about the real demand of tourists to make suitable products and services for them.
In fact, tour operators from other cities have also proposed this kind of cooperation. Some have suggested the launch of tours that link up Ho Chi Minh City with destinations in the Delta and in neighboring countries Cambodia and Thailand.
However, translating the ideas into reality still proves a painstaking process, as the tourism sector in the Mekong Delta is still not quite willing to seat back together to discuss what they can do to make specific products in each province for tourists.
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