Saigon’s mediocre art performances drive tourists to sleep

By Thanh Tuyet   October 20, 2016 | 11:00 am PT
Saigon’s mediocre art performances drive tourists to sleep
A dance performance for tourists in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Thang Ho
Travel companies say the shows need to be more fun and contemporary.

Ho Chi Minh City's arts scene is seriously lacking performances that can entertain the increasing number of tourists visiting the southern hub, travel companies said at a conference on Wednesday.

Surveys by art program organizers in Ho Chi Minh City showed that only 4 percent of tourists who visit the city go to arts performances, and some of them fall asleep midway through.

Among the common performances in the city are traditional music, puppet shows and wedding shows, which according to travel companies, are not exciting at all.

“Traditional music may sound nice to Vietnamese people, but it does not interest foreigners,” Phan Xuan Anh from a tourism company said.

“I’ve seen a group of tourists falling asleep listening to southern folk songs,” Anh added.

He said many traditional music shows are too “scholastic” and unsuitable for foreign visitors.

Other travel companies at the conference also said that performances aimed at tourists need to be more lively and colorful. The Khmer dance or contemporary dance would be a good choice, they said.

A O show, which debuted in the city in 2013, remains one of the most popular choices for foreigners in the country by offering a rare mix of bamboo cirque, contemporary dance, acrobatics and live music with folk instruments.

They also said that each show takes around an hour, but that is too long and will discourage tourists who want to have time to explore the night market or the backpackers’ streets. A show of 30 minutes is more feasible, they said.

No love for arts

Ho Chi Minh City drew 2.43 million foreign tourists in the first six months of this year, up 12.2 percent from the same time last year. As Vietnam’s most crowded and modern city, it has become known more as a commercial hub rather than a cultural center, unlike other big cities such as Hanoi, Hoi An, Hue and Da Nang.

Huu Luan, director of HCMC’s Center of Performance and Cinema, said the city does not even have a proper theater for arts yet.

Most big events are held at the city's Opera House, but that is not used exclusively for the arts.

Luan said a Japanese arts troupe recently signed a contract with the center for an opera performance at the venue, but the city revoked the booking for a different program.

Vo Thanh Trung, head of Square Group that produces A O Show which is hosted at the Opera House, said he does not have any say over the show's schedule, and has to rely on when the venue is not booked.

Trung said funding is also another challenge as his program has yet to make a profit. Tickets to the show cost around $30 apiece, but Trung said he spends VND20 billion ($900,000) on each show, and has to refresh it every three months to draw audiences.

Huynh Anh Tuan, producer of Rong Vang, or Golden Dragon, which is a popular water puppet show in the city, said that creating interesting programs for tourists should not be a difficult thing to do.

The culture and tourism departments just need to ask the city to build a modern theater and invest in good programs, Tuan said.

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