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Tourism back on track in Vietnam’s pollution-hit provinces

By Vy An   April 28, 2017 | 03:03 pm GMT+7

The northern part of the central coast is gradually recovering from the country's worst-ever environmental disaster.

Hotels and seafood restaurants in the central provinces of Quang Binh, Ha Tinh and Quang Tri have attracted tourists back after being abandoned due to an environmental catastrophe caused by a unit of Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics.

Coastal hotels have reported an increasing booking rate for the four-day Reunification and Labor Day holiday starting this weekend.

Up to 90 percent of 143 rooms at Song La Hotel on Thien Cam Beach in Ha Tinh Province have been booked, the hotel said.

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Thien Cam Beach in Ha Tinh Province. Photo by VnExpress/Tu Zeo

Local authorities said more tourists are returning to Thien Cam and many hotels in the area have been booked for the summer holiday.

Quang Huy, a tour guide, said he would take a group of 40 tourists to the northern part of the central region this weekend and they will stay for one night at Thien Cam.

“Tourists are no longer worried about the seawater and seafood like before, while they are even excited about the trip,” he told VnExpress.

In Dong Hoi Town, the capital city of Quang Binh Province, hotels on Truong Phap Street running along the Nhat Le Beach have been fully booked while those in the city’s center have announced a booking rate of as high as 80-90 percent.

Quang Binh is one of the filming location for Hollywood blockbuster "Kong: Skull Islands." Tourism authorities have been trying to ride on the film's success.

Nguyen Duc Tu, chairman of Quang Tri tourism association, said tourists have booked 60-70 percent of hotel rooms in Dong Ha and along beaches. 

The room capacity is still lower than before the incident but has recovered from last year, he said.

Recently, tourists have stopped by two-thirds of the 66 restaurants and kiosks serving seafood along the   Hoang Xuan Huong Beach, said a senior official of Thien Cam Beach tourism area.

In Quang Binh, seafood restaurants have resumed operation since early March.

A woman, who gave only her first name as Huong and is the restaurant owner in Dong Hoi Town, said she expects to serve 500 customers a day this long weekend.

“After seawater in the region was contaminated, restaurants in Quang Binh have to buy fresh seafood from Nha Trang and Phu Yen but now they can get it directly from local fishermen, as the sea is now clean again,” said Le Duc Hanh, a senior official of Quang Binh tourism association.

Last April, the toxic disaster caused by the Vietnam unit of Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group in Ha Tinh Province sent the number of tourists to the area. plunging.

Truong Thi Minh Chau, deputy director of Muong Thanh Hotel in Quang Binh said it was a common scene that hotels Dong Hoi Town have no customers during the Reunification and Labor Day holiday last year.

Many seafood restaurants on Nhat Le Beach had to switch to serving chicken, pork, beef or freshwater fish, she said.

In a meeting organized by the tourism ministry in October last year, Ha Tinh Province reported a huge loss of 90 percent in sea tourism revenue in January-September while Quang Binh lost VND1.9 trillion ($85.3 million), and Quang Tri Province saw VND250 billion vanished, the Saigon Times reported.

In early April last year, a large number of fish washed up dead near the Vung Ang Economic Zone in Ha Tinh Province. The disaster stretched 200 kilometers (124 miles) along the central coast, as far south as Thua Thien-Hue, resulting in the death of more than 70 tons of sea fish and 35 tons of farm-raised fish.

Especially hard hit were the provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Tri, Quang Binh and Thua Thien-Hue, where thousands of fishermen lost customers or were forced to sell at a loss.

The environment ministry said the region is expected to take a decade to completely recover from the incident, while experts predict the disaster may set back Vietnam’s economy for years.

Formosa agreed last June to pay $500 million in compensation, but many people in Ha Tinh are unhappy about how compensation payments have been handled.