Tourism industry doing Ha Long Bay no good

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endors on boats wait for a chance to introduce their goods to visitors on tourism boats at Ha Long Bay. Conflicts between service providers in the bay are spoiling the charm of the World Heritage site.

Since Ha Long Bay was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, tourism services have failed to improve and have actually worsened, officials said at a conference Tuesday.

The conference, held at Ha Long Town in Quang Ninh Province, gathered local and foreign participants to discuss new ways to preserve and develop the site, a Tuoi Tre said.

Many officials said hospitality practices on the bay needd to change.

Nguyen Van Tuan, head of Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, said tourism activities in Ha Long are nothing better than what was offered 15 years ago, and there were no new products.

"There's still just the boring journey: welcome aboard, visit the bay, visit the caves, aboard again, and done."

It takes ten four-star hotels in the town to earn what one hotel in Hanoi, the Metropole, takes in, which is around VND680 billion (US$32.6 million) a year, Tuan said in news website Dan Tri report.

"Tourism units have been ineffective," Tuan said.

Moon Koyoo Kim, a tourism expert from South Korea, said Ha Long tourism products have not managed to promote any of the local cultural traits. He said there are many spots around the town that can be connected to the bay and keep tourists in the area for several days, instead the usual day and a half.

Katherine Muller Marin, chief representative of UNESCO in Vietnam, said her biggest concern was water pollution.

She said visitors at present can only enjoy waters of the bay after sailing several kilometers offshore.

Many tourists during their visit want to plunge into the water, but are discouraged by garbage and the dirty color, Marin said in the Dan Tri report.


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Tuan also blamed many tourism and residential property projects for destroying coral reefs and a mangrove forest that protected the bay.

He said Ha Long has not become a reliable destination for visitors, as it was still marked by chaos at the wharves, fraudulent services and conflicts between service providers.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan said the best way to develop tourism in Ha Long was to focus on preservation.

"Preservation must be the priority," he said, adding that once this is done, the bay will draw more visitors and make money.

"What visitors want is to feel the primitiveness, the ancientness. They are not looking for artificial interventions, especially clumsy ones," Khoan said.

"We should not try to restore, or build, or beautify anything in the bay. However good we are, we can never replace the beauty given by nature, we'd just ruin it."

He said several necessary interventions such as boats or stairs in caves need to be made in harmony with nature.

"I'm very concerned when I hear about some proposals that want to build cable cars across islands or build hotels on several islands."

But representatives from several tourism companies at the conference wanted more "development" interventions. They wanted bids opened for tourism development projects in the bay.

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