Vietnam’s royal city is stunning but that alone won’t lure enough tourists

By Minh Nga   January 4, 2018 | 08:08 pm PT
Vietnam’s royal city is stunning but that alone won’t lure enough tourists
A royal tomb in the Imperial City of Hue. Photo by VnExpress/Tuan Dao
The feudal capital has been dubbed by the Prime Minister as the 'Kyoto of Vietnam', yet tourism pales compared to its potential.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has urged the imperial city of Hue to take advantage of its historic beauty and heritage to attract more tourists.

The central city, the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 until the end of feudal Vietnam in 1945, stands out from other parts of the country thanks to its Imperial Citadel and royal tombs that have made it the top tourist destination in Thua Thien-Hue Province for years.

In 2017, the province attracted 3.78 million visitors, up 16 percent against the previous year, including 1.45 million foreigners, up 34 percent.

In total it earned VND3.52 trillion ($155 million) from tourism last year, up 10 percent against 2016.

Though these results may seem positive, the tourism and service sector has not reached its full potential, shown by the fact it only contributed 15 percent to the province’s 2017 budget collection, said PM Phuc.

The province’s economy expanded by 7.76 percent last year, falling short of its target of 8-8.5 percent.

Tourism development in Hue should be different from more “boisterous cities” in Vietnam such as Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hanoi and Hai Phong, the PM told a meeting with leaders of Thua Thien-Hue Province on Tuesday.

Hue is the “Kyoto of Vietnam”, and its leaders should try harder and take advantage of the peaceful and romantic beauty created by historic and cultural sites that cannot be found anywhere else in Vietnam, he was quoted by the government’s portal as saying.

The PM’s instructions mirrored Thua Thien-Hue's development plan for 2018The province has decided to make the tourism and service sector the basis for its long-term economic development.

This year it plans to continue restoration work on the Imperial City to make it more attractive to tourists, while keeping the city green and friendly.

Experts agree that Hue in itself is an attractive tourist destination, being an ancient capital close to the old Demilitarized Zone and beaches. But playing on its existing strengths alone is not enough, said Ken Atkinson, chairman of Grant Thornton and vice chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board.

He personally "does not think Hue as a city really developed a sound and sustainable destination marketing policy targeting foreign or even local visitors."

"A while back when I was a regular visitor to the city, tourism promotion was almost non existent and there was a lack of guided tours or easily accessible information guides," Atkinson told VnExpress International in an email.

Also, the nearby Phu Bai International Airport in the city was closed for eight months between March and November in 2013 after a one-month closure in summber of 2012, making access to the imperial city difficult.

He added that the drive from Da Nang to Hue over the Hai Van Pass should be one of the most spectacular in the country, especially when looking down onto Lang Co Pennisula and the lagoon - an ideal feeder for tourists to Hue. Yet, the development on the peninsula has been very slow.

Hue should feature alongside other great destinations like the nearby Hoi An and the world-renowned Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam but to date it has not and this is the opportunity for the relevant agencies and authorities, Atkinson suggested.

Last summer, Hue surprised both residents and guests by opening the doors to the Imperial City at night.

As for this summer, the city will be busy organizing the biennial Hue Festival which will return from April 27 to May 2.

The city has high hopes that this cultural event will lure more tourists, with a street carnival, an international food festival and a hot air balloon show.

Traditional court music and dragon boat racing will also feature during the week-long spectacle.

Thua Thien-Hue aims to lure 4-4.2 million tourists this year, with foreign arrivals making up 40-45 percent, and earn VND4.2-4.3 trillion in tourism revenue.

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