Ignoring basic problems no way to promote tourism

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Foreign tourists cross a road in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam's tourism sector has been plagued by various problems, from a lack of tourism products to a shortage of parking lots for tourist buses. 

Vietnam has a tourism sector snagged in a net of troubles.

It is constantly criticized for the lack of quality products, the absence of effective promotion plans, the shortage of professional tour guides with good foreign language skills and so on.

One can argue that such problems take time to solve.

But what about some "basic" issues like the lack of public toilets for travelers, the harassment of street vendors, the lack of parking lots for tourist buses, protection on the streets"¦? Are these big problems that will take time to solve as well, or is there a greater problem underlying all these problems, big and small?

The article titled "Lack of public toilets cramps Vietnam tourism" published in Vietweek last week was not the first to cover the problem of restroom shortage in Vietnam. It has been reported in the media for years.

That nothing has been done despite this prolonged criticism indicates a management failure likely to have serious consequences the constant production of problems that will get increasingly difficult to solve over the years.

While new buildings are introduced in Vietnam's big cities almost every day, from the launch of work on the country's highest tower, to the opening of a luxury shopping mall, no such developments happen regarding public toilets a basic necessity for the city. Not only does the city lack public toilets, existing ones are not well maintained. 

Authorities seem to forget about the demand for natural relief as hundreds of thousands of people visit major cities in the country to see the new buildings. They do not remember it when making plans to develop the local tourism industry.

While local authorities show no sense of urgency in dealing with such problems, the country loses out. Many foreign countries attain a competitive edge by doing what is necessary. For example, many places in the world have already made a name for themselves with "five-star" toilets like London's Canary Wharf District.

On the other hand, in online forums on tourism, tips and advice on how to find a proper toilet in Vietnam have not been encouraging. People comment often that toilets are "hard to find," "filthy," have "wet floors" and no tissues.

The same goes for the absence of parking lots for tourist buses.

Authorities make a lot of effort and spend a lot of money to promote numerous tourism sites, one after another. But, no one remembers to give space to buses for dropping and picking up visitors, and allow them to park while waiting.

It is not a pleasant scene where tourists are urged to finish their sight-seeing quickly as the buses, without places to park, cannot keep running around for too long. And, it is surely a bad experience for tourists to remember if they are harassed by street vendors or robbed when waiting for their buses to return and pick them up. 

Based on the evidence so far, authorities are not serious about changing their approach. They are apparently so blinded by the dazzle of new, fancy-looking buildings and similar "hi-tech" developments that they cannot see basic problems underlying such reckless exploitation of "location" and other resources.

If we continue down this path, soon there will be no "public space" in major cities. They will all be privatized in various ways and reserved for moneyed people.

The problems created by this approach will soon turn so ugly that the dazzle of new, sophisticated developments cannot hide them.

Vietnam has identified tourism as a major economic industry, but with the short-sighted approach that ignores real needs of people, we might see more people voting their feet when making a choice about visiting this country.

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