Tourism and the Vietnamese Challenge

By: Jobers R. Bersales October 03,2018 - 10:36 PM

For a country supposedly on the grip of authoritarian, one-party communist rule, Vietnam continues to defy the stereotype. Its openness to the world and its pursuit of the market economy (some would call this patent capitalist revisionism) has brought windfalls in terms of tourist inflows and direct foreign investments.

I first got a glimpse of this once war-ravaged country in 2009 when I attended a meeting of hundreds of archaeologists in Hanoi, in the same manner as the conference I attended in Hue last week. In a span of just nine years, to host such a conference is no mean feat. And it is a testament to how much progress has been achieved ever since ‘doi moi,’ the principle of a socialist-oriented market economy, was first introduced in 1986 by reformists in the Vietnamese Communist Party.

It’s now my fourth time to be back in Vietnam and I am still fascinated no end at how tourist-friendly this country is. Despite over 30 years of war that wrought so much damage on its natural and cultural resources, especially its historic built heritage, it is amazing how so much is being spent by the government to establish museums and heritage centers and fund large-scale archaeological excavations jointly with foreign countries like Japan, Germany and its former enemies America and France.

The Hanoi I saw in 2009 was but a glimpse of the hustle and bustle of local and tourist life alike when I revisited Vietnam’s capital city last week. The wide avenues surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake, the smallest of the many lakes in the city, was now off-limits to all forms of vehicles (including bikes) on weekends. Tourists from all over the world were now billeted in many mid-rise hotels that have sprouted since then. There is even a red hop-on, hop-off double-decker tour bus that one normally sees only in highly-developed countries. Manila and Cebu don’t even have them!

Developed by the French during their brutal reign in the colonial era, Hanoi, like other cities in Vietnam boasts of so many leafy neighborhoods, tree-lined avenues and a multitude of parks full of fountains and waterways. Favorite tourist cities like Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon), Hue, Da Nang and Hanoi are so tourist-friendly that you never get lost. There is always a tourist information kiosk prominent in the central district of each city, while we have none in Cebu (except Carcar and Argao). Cheap but stomach-friendly and safe food can be had anywhere.

There is so much that local tourist authorities can learn from the Vietnamese, a proud nation that managed to humiliate a superpower. It is not that Cebu City has no natural and cultural resources that tourists can appreciate. I do not subscribe to the view of people who say that we have nothing to show after the tourist goes through a harrowing, traffic-infested three-hour trip from the airport to the city center.

We certainly have a lot of attractions and cultural niches to show. What we lack is the imagination to develop them not just for tourists but also for Cebuanos to feel a sense of pride over them. The problem, I believe, is we just have too much talk and less action and discipline — the standard problem of exuberant democracy. We all know what should be done, we talk about them but at the end of the day there is no follow through. So we end up with the usual.

Well, the opening of the Bohol International Airport, which will surely compete with our usual tourists coming in for the sun, sea and sand, should jolt our tourism professionals and operators to stop talking and start doing the things that one gets to see in other countries: more signages, more toilets, more brochures, new tourist information booths, more walkways, more imagination. And while we’re at it, let’s support our museums with new exhibitions and better facilities.

In Hue, even high-end hotels carry this sign: “Toilets. Free Use for Tourists.” When Cebu’s hotels can have a sign like that, then that is when I will believe we are at par with how much Vietnam pampers its visitors.

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TAGS: Hanoi, tourism, Vietnam

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