Halong travel: want for improvement
Halong travel, Jean Claude Wiesz is the director of the tourism department in Saint Malo, France. He has been working as an advisor in the field of developing tourism in more than 60 countries. Since 1998, he has been in Vietnam many times to give advice to the government on how to develop travel in Halong bay Vietnam. On his last visit, he shared his views.
What could be considered successful in the tourism field?
There are three standards to identify whether tourism in an area is successful or not. First is the number of tourists, second is the average amount of money each visitor spends in that area and the last is the number of high class tourists.
It’s wrong if we only base on the number of foreign visitors travel to one place in general to say that the tourism of the area is successful. The amount of money visitors spend in using services in that place ensures the success of its tourism. The amount that wealthy people spend in Vietnam during a one week stay sometimes is more than the amount spent by a large number of backpackers who would stay for several days. I would say it is necessary for Vietnam to aim at attracting these high class tourists.
Where do you think Vietnam's position is in the world travel map?
Vietnam has rich tourism potential as a country with a very interesting history. Vietnam first became known as a country affected by a lot of war, which the Vietnamese people have suffered. Vietnam is also gifted by beauty. When seeing these as part of its tourism competitiveness, Vietnam won’t have to worry about its regional rivals. However, it is left behind by its rivals in terms of the quality of services it provides.
Last year when advising Quang Ninh local government, you complained that even though government leaders were eager to increase tourism in the province, the service quality in Halong was not proportionate, and was simply not good enough to integrate into world tourism. You also recommended some plans, have you seen any improvements this time?
This time, after arrived I met with the new leaders of Quang Ninh Vietnam, and I could see their willingness to speed up the development of tourism. However, compared to last time I was there, not much has improved. I stayed in a rather large three star hotel, but nobody working at the hotel could speak French, and their English was substandard.
Developing tourism doesn't mean that we need to have more buildings or construction or interfere further in the natural setting of Halong Vietnam. The natural setting is Halong’s attraction. If we add or remove things to make it more or less similar to a model that may be successful in other places, then people won't come here to see Halong because it will simply look like any other bay around the world. I want to make an example of Saint Malo. After World War II, the bay was in an absolute wreck. We had to rebuild it, but we did so under a strict principle of "recovering it to make it as it was".
Another thing that I already said last time I visited Halong: the building of an information centre that provides sufficient information to foreign tourists, and easy access to it, has still not been started. Having information on the area that they visit is a right and a demand of tourists, and it opens more opportunities for the area. The more tourists know about the area the more likely it is that they will stay longer, and locals will benefit from that.
Are shortages of information the reason for tourists not to return to the bay?
There are many reasons that make tourists not want to return to Vietnam. Difficulties with visa applications are only the beginning. To get a visa for Vietnam, a French tourist must pay 70 Euro and wait a long time to receive it. While to visit Thailand they don't need a visa at all and can go there whenever they want.
Tourism training in Vietnam also has some problems. I have been to many restaurants or hotels in Vietnam and seen many beautiful people working there, but rarely do you see them with a smile. Training them just to say hello, how are you in French, German, English or Italian is not a big deal, but if an Italian could be greeted in his language when he arrives at the hotel it would leave a lasting impression.
I also think that training xe om and taxi drivers is also necessary, because these people are the first to meet with foreign tourists when they arrive. These people have a reputation for charging tourists unreasonably, and this can badly affect someone’s whole trip in Vietnam. In Saint Malo, taxi drivers are trained properly to act as friendly ambassadors of the city.
In some other cases your training is really a waste. For example, sending young person to Hanoi for tourism training is expensive and they still need practical training when they come back to Halong. Furthermore there is no guarantee that they even come back to Quang Ninh to work.
Advertising for Vietnam travel here is in need to change too. I have been to many international tourism exhibitions but every single one to introduce Vietnam has been done by diplomatic workers rather than by experienced tourism experts. The end result is monotonous spiels.
What would be your recommendations for Halong to develop tourism? If you had a project to speed up tourism development here, what would you do?
I think what Halong is short of is events. All tourists visiting Halong are herded onto boats or taken to hotels and then shown around the bay, that's all.
Organising festivals is a good way to give people something fun to do. However, local specialties should be highlighted too. They should aim to attract foreign tourists. I have seen many similar festivals here in Vietnam. Only the Hue festival has anything special, as it introduces different traditional forms of plays. Otherwise, the festivals are just bland, boring events created by stuffed shirts. In France each city has their own festival which introduces their traditions or specialties to attract foreign tourists.
Developing business travel is also something for Halong to consider. An international conference hall would bring benefits from accommodation fees and different sources of income from shopping and other services, as attendants of meetings also like to spend their money on these kinds of things. Sometimes their families come too. It is definitely an effective way to sell the image of Halong to the world.
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