Making festivals the inhospitable way
Vietnam festival, speech after speech usher in the national tourism year in Can Tho City, followed by the opening ceremony made colorful with vivid dances and music shows on the stage.
Behold! Attending the much-touted opening event are officials and invited guests only, while the public including tourists are left out. Ironically, it is tourists that are the main subjects of national tourism years organized annually on a rotational basis in different provinces across the country.
The National Tourism Year in Can Tho, which is still going on after the opening ceremony in February this year, is therefore forlorn among tourists, local and foreign alike, or at least is absent from their mind, although it is made for them. In reality, it is not made for them.
Vietnam's tourism industry is making more efforts in organizing the national tourism year as a way to attract more tourists, especially international travelers. However, after six years since the first event was launched, such a big name has drawn little attention and proved not attractive.
'Hand to mouth' events
Since the country's first tourism year was organized in northern Quang Ninh in 2003, the year-long event has been repeated in Dien Bien, Nghe An, Quang Nam, Thai Nguyen, and currently Can Tho. The next National Tourism Year 2009 will take place in the central highlands province of Daklak.
It is noted that the way the event is organized is also repeated through the years, as seen in the low profile of the annual program among both tourists and travel firms.
In a meeting in Hanoi last month to review five years of organizing the National Tourism Year, the country's tourism authority reported that tourism revenue in these hosting localities have strongly increased in the tourism year. The events are also promoting the tourism image of the provinces to tourists, making the number of arrivals to increase year on year.
Dien Bien, for instance, earned VND53.4 billion in tourism revenue in 2004, up 75% compared to 2003, while Nghe An obtained VND385 billion in 2005, up 40% year on year, and Thai Nguyen fetched VND571 billion in 2007, up 30%. The results are boasted on the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism's official website.
But such achievements are short-lived, however. Just a few years have elapsed but few travelers can still remember the tourism images of Dien Bien, Thai Nguyen, or Nghe An. After good results in the tourism years, these localities' tourism sector has failed to make any breakthrough in tourism development as expected by the national tourism authority.
One of the main reasons behind the low efficiency of the tourism years, according to several players in the hospitability industry, is the lack of promotion activities on the part of organizers, as well as the lack of attractive products for tourists. Many events of the year are stage shows taking place in the opening and closing ceremonies and during local holidays that are not widely known or open to tourists while there are few attractive tourism events and new products for them.
"We do not earn good results from the events. We are not kept abreast of what happen during the tourism year due to a lack of information," says Bui Viet Thuy Tien, director of the tour operator Asian Trails Company.
"I think that it's not a real attractive event for travelers, especially for international guests," she comments, referring to the National Tourism Year in Dien Bien as an example.
"Some French travelers like to travel to the historical site (of Dien Bien Phu Battlefield) but due to the lack of information, my company mainly catering to European tourists have been able to sell tours to a small number of tourists," she explains, adding "we have also faced the same problem with other tourism years."
Tien suggests that detailed information about annual tourism programs should be widely disseminated long beforehand so that travel agents and well as their overseas partners can arrange tours for their guests.
However, one month before the National Tourism Year 2008 to take place in Can Tho, the director of Vietnam Festival Company Nguyen Tan Hoa still did not know about the dates and the contents of major events to arrange tours. Meanwhile, Phuong of Ben Thanh Tourist compares that other countries like Malaysia have sent detailed programs of their national tourism year to travel companies one year in advance, and such information is repeated after six months to keep travel players informed.
This situation is lamented by other big tour operators as well.
"We've lacked the information about the event," says Lai Huu Phuong, director of Ben Thanh Tourist Travel Service Center.
In a seminar in Ho Chi Minh City last week, the director of lndochina Service, Ung Phuong Dung, said the tourism years do not have the power in stirring up international travelers' interest.
"We cannot add the tourism year's events into our tour programs because such events are provided in short notice, about two months only, and not really like events for tourists," she says.
A professional hand needed
Local tour operators say that professional organizers are needed if the National Tourism Year is to succeed in wooing tourists.
"Dien Bien is just famous for French, especially elderly people. So, the place is not quite a good venue for organizing the tourism year," says Tien from Asian Trails. Sharing this view, Phuong from Ben Thanh Tourist suggests that the tourism sector should organize the events in big tourism centers, which will make it easier in promotion and preparation of services for visitors.
"I think that the big tourism centers are better places for such events. With big numbers of tourists constantly in such cities, the tourism sector can invite many guests to join festivities," he notes.
Early this year, in a talk with the Daily, an official of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism admitted that good places for the tourism year should be big tourism centers. Some of provinces, he said, still lacked experiences to organize big events. However, according to the official, the tourism year is meant not only for tourism, but for other general propaganda goals as well.
"We organized the event in Dien Bien to promote tourism, and at the same time to remind the people about the Dien Bien Phu victory. Thai Nguyen's tourism is underdeveloped but we want to create leverage for its economic development. We have many reasons to launch the decision," he said.
Another high-ranking tourism official, when asked for comments on how tourists are closed off at the opening ceremony of the tourism year in Can Tho, says that it is the lack of experiences of provincial authorities.
"You should be sympathetic toward the local organizer because it is the first time the city organizes the big tourism event in the absence of experience," he says.
Enough is enough. It is the first time for Can Tho to organize the national tourism year, but the sixth time the event is organized by the national tourism authority. The tourist cannot wait until the event takes places in all provinces and cities across the country for all local organizers to get experiences in organizing real tourism events for them.
(Source: SGT, URL: http://english.vietnamnet.vn/travel/2008/07/794120/)
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