Insiders speak of Saigon’s charmless tourism

Ho Chi Minh City authorities have entered a meeting with travel industry insiders with plans to discuss an initiative which would transform tourism in the southern metropolis into its leading economic driver, but instead were met with a barrage of complaints about the city's lackluster tourism.

In January, the Politburo issued a resolution setting a goal for tourism in Vietnam to “basically become the leading driver of the economy” by 2020, and “a real leading economic sector” by 2030, creating a pulse for the country’s eco-social development.

The resolution came in the wake of the tourism industry’s success in 2016, highlighted by Vietnam’s welcoming a record-breaking 10 million international tourists and 62 million domestic visitors, with tourism having accounted for 6.8% of the national GDP.

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Tourists are seen in Ho Chi Minh City at night.

Primary targets laid out by the resolution include mushrooming international and domestic tourist numbers to 20 million and 82 million, respectively, by 2020, while simultaneously increasing tourism’s contribution to the national GDP to over 10%.

While the  meeting was meant for the Ho Chi Minh City Party Committee to meet with representatives from local and international travel companies and discuss how to achieve the goals set in the Politburo resolution, it instead became a forum for industry insiders to complain of lackluster tourism offerings in the southern megacity.

Lack of highlights

Phan Xuan Anh, chairman of travel firm Du Ngoan Viet, said that a lack of highlights makes Ho Chi Minh City’s tourism unappealing to visitors.

“Say what you want about Ben Thanh Market or Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica – but these are not places you must visit before you die,” he said.

Anh cited warnings from international travelers saying that Ho Chi Minh City is losing its quintessential character and has become “a megacity where you can only see high-rises lining the streets.”

He also pointed to several unnecessarily rigid regulations that have prevented Ho Chi Minh City from living up to its tourism potential, using the hurdles involved in transforming the coastal district of Can Gio into an attractive tourism destination.

“The district is classified as a border-island so you need permission to bring tourists there, even though it takes only ten minutes to travel by boat from Vung Tau to Can Gio,” he said.

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Foreign tourists drink beer in Saigon's 'backpacker area' in District 1.

Duong Thanh Thuy, director of the shopping brand Miss Ao Dai, brought other issues to the table, complaining that there are too many shopping venues in the city with no connections between them.

“Traffic is another problem,” she said.

“Many foreign tour groups travel on 50-seater buses which take the entire day just to travel to opposite ends of the city, leaving no time for the holidaymakers to spend their money.”

Thuy called for the city’s support to open one massive shopping venue where tourists can find all made-in-Vietnam products and enjoy local dishes.

“If we do this then it will be within our reach to have each international tourist spend between US$500 and US$1,000 during their visit to the city,” she asserted.

Vo Anh Tai, deputy general director of Saigontourist, said Ho Chi Minh City lacks tourism products that are entertaining to tourists at night.

He suggested finding ways to turn Ho Chi Minh City into “a city that never sleeps” in order to woo more visitors.

In the meantime, Scott Hodgetts, general manager at Sheraton Saigon Hotel, speaking on behalf of foreign businesspeople in the city, questioned the ability of municipal leaders to make paperwork less complicated.

In 2016 alone, Hodgetts said, Sheraton Saigon Hotel was inspected on 13 occasions, sometimes with inspections overlapping one another.

Hodgetts said if red tape is reduced, it will be much easier for foreign businesses to persuade international customers to choose Vietnam as a destination.


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