Get the product ready, then promote it

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  The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism's stall at the 8th International Travel Expo Ho Chi Minh City on September 13-15. Vietnam's tourism authorities have yet to develop decent tourism infrastructure and products, let alone effective promotion plans. Photo: SGTT

The National Tourism Year, an annual event aimed at promoting destinations in Vietnam, will enter its tenth year in 2013, with another big project announced recently.

But, how much the initiative has helped boost the tourism sector has never been estimated properly.

So far, statistics from Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) have just showed increases in the number of arrivals to provinces and cities that host the event every year. They do not reveal how many of the visitors were real tourists, because many were actually guests invited to the events.

Even the year-on-year growth rates are not calculated and compared to the projects' investment to see their effectiveness.

Despite this critical failure, VNAT has announced that the 2013 event would focus on the Red River Delta hosted by the northern city of Hai Phong.

Some 30 festivals, big and small, will be held in the northern port city and 12 surrounding provinces, VNAT chief Nguyen Van Tuan said, promising that their scale would be bigger than in previous years.

The project announcement, however, failed to offer any particular tourism product like sights to see or infrastructures to be built, even though these are decisive factors in a destination's success in attracting tourists.

VNAT seems to forget the rule that good products sell, and tourism is not an exception.

In Hai Phong, the historical area where Vietnamese leaders put stakes in the ground to fight foreign invaders in 938, 981, and 1288, is no longer in its original condition, as the stakes have been taken out and displayed at museums.

Do Son Beach is beautiful, but not attractive enough, especially for tourists from southern Vietnam, as they already have many famous beaches in the southern and central regions. Meanwhile, numerous sea ports are being used for cargo, so it is not an easy task to attract tourist cruises there.

Vo Anh Tai, director of Saigontourist, said Cat Ba Island is a famous destination in the area, but the ferry system is still unsatisfactory with unstable schedules.

In fact, when the state-owned carrier Vietnam Airlines discounted ticket fares for the Ho Chi Minh City-Hai Phong route as part of its campaign to boost tourism, none of HCMC-based travel companies included Hai Phong's destinations in their tours.

Furthermore, travel companies were not interested in the festivals, because during festivals it is almost impossible to find hotel rooms, and the prices of services' usually increase, said Nguyen Van My, director of Lua Viet.

And on top of all this, VNAT does not seem to take into consideration the feedback it received from travel agencies at a meeting held last December to review national tourism year events conducted over the past several years.

The firms said the administration had chosen localities to host the event only because some big historical and political anniversary was going to take place there that year. Some were selected just because VNAT wanted to support disadvantaged localities.

The proper criteria for choosing event venues should have been the range of products on offer and the infrastructure, they said.

Both tourists and travel companies need new destinations to discover and offer visitors, but to make some place a really attractive destination, tourism authorities must start from the very basic things like building clean bathrooms, before thinking about large scale events to promote it.

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