Filthy toilets and robberies: Deputy PM names tourism nightmares in Vietnam

By VnExpress   August 9, 2016 | 09:21 pm PT
Filthy toilets and robberies: Deputy PM names tourism nightmares in Vietnam
Foreign tourists taking a rickshaw (cyclo) ride along a street in the old quarter of Hanoi. Photo by AFP/Hoang Dinh Nam
In a rare move of brutal honesty, he lays bare the truth behind Vietnam's lagging tourism sector.

Official statistics indicate that 70 percent of foreign holidaymakers would not return to Vietnam and are gripped by seven bugbears, Deputy Prime Minister Vuong Dinh Hue said Tuesday at a national tourism conference.

Hue blamed robberies, thieves, unsafe roads, traffic congestion, service quality, filthy toilets and environmental pollution for holding back the tourism sector.

“Vietnam’s tourism sector is highly likely to lag far behind its rivals,” Hue told the conference in Hoi An, a popular tourist attraction in central Vietnam.

These tourism issues are by no means new to tourists, both foreign and local. But what is significant here is that a top government leader has pointed the finger at them at a national conference on tourism with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and local leaders in attendance.

The conference took place at a time when Vietnam's government has assigned the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to develop a blueprint that earmarks tourism as a key economic industry for the country.

Vietnam’s tourism industry has grew by 7 percent from 2011-2015, compared to 8 percent in Cambodia, 10 percent in Singapore, 12 percent in Thailand, 15 percent in Laos and 51 percent in Myanmar, official figures show.

Vietnam jumped five places to 75th among the 141 countries on the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) for 2015.

Vietnam’s tourism industry holds great potential for growth but lacks marketable services and products, said Deputy Prime Minister Hue.

The Southeast Asian country has welcomed 5.5 million foreign arrivals in the first half of 2016, a 24 percent increase from the same period last year. The tourism industry also generated VND235 trillion ($10.5 billion) in that period, up by about 30 percent on-year.

Official statistics show the tourism sector accounted for 6.6 percent of Vietnam’s gross domestic product in 2015. This figure is expected to jump to 10 percent or more so that tourism can become a driving force behind the country’s economic growth, said the deputy prime minister.

But still, Vietnam’s tourism sector is being outpaced by its neighbors in Southeast Asia due to a lack of funding for marketing, Vietnam's tourism authorities say.

According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, the annual budget for promoting tourism is only $2 million, which pales in comparison with its neighbors.

To put that in perspective, the $2 million Vietnam spends on tourism promotion is about 2.9 percent of Thailand’s budget for tourism promotion, 2.5 percent of Singapore’s and 1.9 percent of Malaysia’s.

In a move that has been welcomed by insiders, Vietnam plans to increase its tourism promotion fund to VND120 billion ($5.3 million).

"Clearly an increase in the budget for promotion and marketing has to be good news even though our budget is still by and large much lower than our competitors," said Kenneth Atkinson, chairman of the Tourism Working Group under the Vietnam Business Forum, a consortium of international and local business associations and chambers of commerce.

In addition, Vietnam offers visa exemptions to visitors from 22 countries and territories. However, its regional neighbors, including top performers Thailand and Singapore, have granted visa waivers to visitors from up to 160 countries.

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