Mekong Delta passes the buck on sub-par tourism
Mekong Delta, the National Administration of Vietnam Tourism is undertaking a massive staff training programme for tourist professionals across the Mekong River Delta this year.
Famous for its rice paddies and fruit, the 13-province Delta is thus far home to only 18 tourism enterprises or 2.8 per cent of the total 629 in the country and has been criticised for its sub-par products, services and staff.
According to the head of the National Administration of Viet Nam Tourism’s Travel Department Vu The Binh, the number of international and domestic tourists visiting the Mekong River Delta is far too low.
"The crucial issue is that the local tourism sector must develop standardised but unique products suitable to a range of tourist needs. It’s a pity but there are problems with the way these 13 provinces do business: tours often overlap or are repetitious."
But who is to blame: the authorities, travel agents or local people?
Some say that the problem has arisen from travel agents providing services at very little cost to themselves.
"We’ve become used to doing tourism for free. We have not reinvested in places where we take tourists," the director of Handspan Tourism Co, Luong Quang Thang, told Culture newspaper.
"We pay almost no fees when tourists come to visit an ethnic minority hamlet, for instance. We can look at sights, tour homes and even take photographs. At the same time, visitors are complaining about poor traffic routes, unsanitary toilet facilities and a lack of memorabilia on offer," Thang said.
"We should stop engaging in ‘free’ tourism. Professionally, each travel agent must begin contributing to the local populations."
Yet many are hostile to Thang’s opinion, saying that travel agents can’t affect needed change alone and that locals should help shoulder the task.
"Without co-operation, tourist enterprises will not see sustainable growth. One enterprise can’t accomplish this on its own," said Nguyen Thi Tuyet Mai, from Ho Chi Minh City-based Fiditourist.
Mai said one way to remedy the situation was to have enterprises work together with local people on product and service development. "Often an area is known for certain breathtaking locales or historic relics, but local people, out of lack of know-how or ability, are unable to make money off these assets.
With a wide web of travel agencies across the country, Fiditourist has organised many sustainable tourism projects. These so-called Green Tours or Clean Tours provide tourists a chance not only to tour sights but to give back to the community by planting trees or collecting trash.
Mai said this was just a small effort that any travel agency could accomplish, but that major changes needed to come from the State.
According to the deputy head of the Ho Chi Minh City Tourism Department, La Quoc Khanh, there is always a win-win benefit between travel agencies and tourist areas.
"To some extent, the locality benefits the most. The higher the number of visitors to the area, the greater the gain for them."
Thang said that local authorities and populations must bear the brunt of maintenance responsibilities and travel agencies should act as consultants.
"There must be close co-ordination between travel agents and local people. Agents must help locals gear products toward visitor tastes based on professional experience. Admittedly, such co-operation has been lacking. So State management bodies must act as a bridge between the two."
Thus, as with all areas of development, many people, agencies and factors are responsible for the state of tourism in the country, and only by working together can they change it.
(Source: VNS, URL: http://english.vietnamnet.vn/travel/2008/06/788815/)
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