Vietnam tourism lags behind other countries in the region

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Despite recording increasing numbers of visitors over the years, Vietnam has a long way to develop quality tourism services, visitors and experts say.

The sector is hampered by poor service quality, bad infrastructure and a lack of entertainment activities, they add.

Robert Tan, a Singaporean tourism expert, told Thanh Nien Vietnam's tourism environment had yet to improve over the last few years, and in some instances, it has gotten worse.

He cited increased robbery as a main factor, adding foreign tourists are feeling more insecure while traveling on the streets in Ho Chi Minh City's downtown areas.

"Recently, a group of Singaporean tourists decided to go in a tour around the Cho Lon area in HCMC. When they got out of the Ben Thanh Market, they accidentally took an illegal taxi.

"The taxi driver forced them to pay an exorbitant fee: VND500,000 (US$24) for the ride which actually cost only VND80,000.

"The tourists took photos of the driver, the car number plate and threatened to call the police, so the driver finally gave in."

Bui Thi Hong Ha, deputy chief of An Giang Province's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said the Mekong Delta would have been a far more popular tourist attraction if traffic from HCMC to the region was better.

"The transport system is overloaded: traffic congestion happens on both waterways and roads, which deters tourists from visiting the Delta," she said.

Phan Dinh Hue, director of Vong Tron Viet (Viet Circle) travel agency, said Vietnam can only attract tourists who have never been to the country.

"I think the increase in foreign arrivals over the last few years is because of the fact that Vietnam is a new destination for the tourists.

"They visit Vietnam out of curiosity, but they would not come back."

Vietnam is also critically in need of entertainment shows to attract foreign tourists, who have repeatedly complained they don't know what to do at night, after dinner, in Vietnam.

Hyung taek Hugh Lim, chief representative of South Korean Embassy's Tourism and Culture Department, said there is a lack of art performance shows at fixed hours.

"It is really hard for South Korean tourists to find places to go  at night. We usually lead them to massage and karaoke parlors," he said.

In South Korea, around 10 art performance programs designed specifically for foreigners are organized at fixed hours, both at night and during the day, according to Lim.

"Dancing clubs, bars and coffee shops open until very late, while shopping malls are open around the clock.

"Annually, nine million foreign tourists help bring in $10 billion for South Korean tourism industry. On average, a tourist spends around $1,200 a day in South Korea."

Mohd Akbal Setia, chief representative of Tourism Malaysia in Vietnam, said HCMC has a lot of dancing clubs, but not many places for traditional art performanceS.

"I usually recommend Malaysian men to massage parlors and women to shop at the Ben Thanh Market," he said.

Suggestions

According to Lim, Vietnam has a lot of diverse cultural characteristics, which can be interpreted into art performance programs.

"Vietnam should encourage private companies to take part in the organization of art performance shows, just like South Korea and Thailand do.

Nguyen Minh Quyen, director of Ben Thanh Tourist, said travel firms are the first to be blamed for the lack of entertainment activities.

"However, the government should also provide financial support for travel firms until they can organize the program periodically by themselves," he said.

Quyen noted that it is not really hard to design art performances for tourists, because Vietnam has a lot of traditional musical instruments and folk songs from different regions.

Ben Thanh Tourist used to work with Tran Huu Trang Opera House in HCMC to organize variety shows, which could not maintained due to the lack of funds.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Thuong Hoang Hai, chief of the Marketing and Sales Department of Vietnam Airlines, said Vietnam should cooperate with neighboring Southeast Asian countries Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to create a "common visa" for foreign tourists to the four countries,

"I think when a visa can help tourists travel through the four countries, foreign arrivals will definitely surge," he said.

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