Vietnamese athletes are getting better every year, but our tourism industry is still one of the worst-performing in Southeast Asia.
SEA Games 25 closed in Vientiane last Friday, with Vietnam finishing second in the medal tally with 83 golds, only three less than Thailand. Third place Indonesia brought home 43 gold medals.
This was Vietnamââ‚¬â„¢s best-ever performance at Southeast Asiaââ‚¬â„¢s largest sporting event.
Vietnamese athletes played like leaders in almost every sport, and while male footballers didnââ‚¬â„¢t bring home a gold like their female counterparts, they still played brilliantly.
Since we began playing at the SEA Games in 1994 after the US removed its embargo, weââ‚¬â„¢ve often finished sixth or seventh out of ten countries.
But our athletes have gone a long way. They earned four times as many medals as they won in the 90s. Although our country is not rich and we lack the sports sponsorships and funding of other SEA nations, our athletes have given us the hope that weââ‚¬â„¢ll one day be seen at the top of other major Asian competitions.
But as our sports programs improve at a rapid pace, our tourism sector has been left behind.
In order to climb from the current 5th or 6th place to second in the region, Vietnam would have to attract four times as many visitors as weââ‚¬â„¢re welcoming now.
Sports and tourism are both managed by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. In many ways, the two sectors have received similar government support and foreign players are active in both fields. In some ways, tourism has in fact received more support as tourism ââ‚¬Å“fairsââ‚¬ and ââ‚¬Å“festivalsââ‚¬ are organized and held throughout the country, throughout the year, in a variety of both popular tourism spots and out-of-the-way unheard of places.
But it appears Vietnamââ‚¬â„¢s tourism managers have not yet laid out a clear vision for the industry to follow into the future. They also lack the kind of operations networks, either nationwide or even in certain regions of the country, that our sports developers have been good at establishing.
Our travel agencies, carriers and restaurants have spent much more time fighting one another rather than cooperating to boost the sector as a whole.
Tourism operators should stop moaning about red tape and instead do their best to rely on innovation and creativity. Otherwise, Vietnamese tourism will dwell forever at the bottom of the Southeast Asian barrel.
As our sports continue to advance, we can only hope that our tourism administrators look to athletics as an example.
By Nguyen Van My*
*The writer is director of HCMC-based tour operator Lua Viet