A jungle, nicknamed “the Garden of Edam,” is one of the world famous Son Doong Cave’s main draws in Quang Binh Province / PHOTO COURTESY OF SONDOONGCAVE.ORG
The central province of Quang Binh recently made headlines in local media after being ranked eighth out of 52 places to visit this year by the New York Times.
That the province is getting attraction as a travel destination is thanks to its Son Doong Cave – one of the world’s largest caves. Now open to tourists with limitations, the cave is described as being enough to house forests of 100-foot-tall trees, home to colossal 260-foot stalactites, and boasting a biodiversity of more than 200 plant species.
Of course, it is good for Quang Binh as well as the whole country to have such a beautiful site that become famous in the world without spending money on promoting it.
But, the main question is what authorities in Quang Binh and Vietnamese tourism will do to make optimum use of the recognition.
The recognition not only shows that the place has a possibility to attract tourists, it also highlights our failure to properly exploit many similar recognitions earlier.
Currently Vietnam has eight cultural assets that have been recognized as the “proclamation of masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity” by UNESCO, and seven sites that have been declared world heritages. This is not to mention numerous man-made works called “top of Southeast Asia,” “top of Asia,” and “top of the world.”
However, Vietnam has never won the first place in the race with other countries in Southeast Asia or Asia for attracting tourists and tourism revenues.
The Vietnam National Administration for Tourism (VNAT) reported that last year, over 7.57 million foreign tourists visited the country, up 10.6 percent from 2012. This means it achieved objectives outlined by the national strategy for developing tourism by 2020 two years ahead of plan.
Thirty-five million Vietnamese visited local destinations, a year-on-year increase of 7.7 percent.
Vietnam earned VND200 trillion (US$9.36 billion) from tourism, a rise of 25 percent from 2012, according to VNAT.
With all these reported figures, Vietnam’s tourism apparently had a successful year. But, it is a different story, if we compare Vietnam with neighboring countries.
In 2000, Thailand reported less than 10 million international tourist arrivals, but the number increased to 26.74 million last year. Between 2009 and 2013, despite floods and political chaos, that country still saw steady increases in the number of foreign tourists.
Another country, Malaysia, attracted 10.22 million foreign tourists in 2000, and then 25.03 million in 2013.
We appreciate recognitions granted to local destinations and works, but we should never forget that they are only meaningful when we can make use of them, turning them into a real boost for tourism.
For this, the foremost need is for long term thinking while immediately solving current problems like protecting relic sites from human and natural abuses, and stopping rip-offs and frauds against tourists.
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