Vietnam’s Tourist Problem
Image Credit: Haithanh

Vietnam’s Tourist Problem


For the past 999 days, the large screen by Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake has been counting down the days until zero. A lot has changed since the countdown began—the roads are even more crowded now, with virtual gridlock across much of the city, while the streets are filled with newly-added lights. National flags have been handed out to households and now adorn many of the city’s balconies.

The influx of visitors to the city, most of whom are from the surrounding provinces, are mostly here for one thing—to share in the celebrations Sunday marking the 1000th anniversary of Hanoi’s founding.

But it wasn’t meant to be the region’s farmers, for example, who were going to come for a glimpse of the action—the anniversary was supposed to mark the height of an ongoing international drive to bolster the country’s tourism industry.

In 2007, Vietnam launched a campaign that ran on major cable channels around the world carrying a simple slogan—‘Vietnam—The Hidden Charm’. It was hoped that tourists would flock to the country after being wowed by the campaign’s slideshow of traditional culture and natural beauty.

Three years later, officials had hoped to build on the campaign and exploit Hanoi’s anniversary festivities to showcase the city—and the country—to the expected visitors. But it hasn’t quite worked out like that.

‘(It was) a missed opportunity, at least insofar as international travellers are concerned,’ says Jim Sullivan, head of Mandarin Media, a US public relations firm that represents many of the country’s five-star resorts. ‘None of the hotels knew what was planned.’

Indeed, while the 2007 campaign was ‘The Hidden Charm’, the lead-up to the capital’s 1000th birthday party could perhaps better have been described as ‘The Hidden Plan.’

Until just a couple of weeks before the festivities began on October 1, no timetable for the events had been distributed, meaning few people in the city had any idea what might happen, where or when. The only certainties were fireworks and traffic jams.

Up until the start of this month, local news had been reporting that a total of about 800,000 foreign and domestic visitors were expected in the capital over the 10-day series of events. Yet despite the traffic congestion and large crowds in some spots, these projections appear to have been some way off the mark, with few hotels reporting being full.

April 10, 2014 at 02:05

Sorry Vietnam
I’m leaving and not coming back.

I really wanted to spend 6 months in Vietnam, working part-time as a volunteer to teach English and part time as a student to learn Vietnamese. I’m lucky enough to have a year free of commitments from my school in Australia and I wanted to give something back to the world, particularly here in Vietnam, and particularly given Australia and Vietnam’s history.

I’m sorry to all of the good-willed, normal Vietnamese people that I’m running away from. I hope you understand that it is only because a small number of your citizens have made me feel so unwelcome here.

In the last two days 4 different people have sworn at me, in English and Vietnamese, for not buying their products and services on the streets in Hué. 3 different shop owners have asked for double the price of their goods thinking I didn’t know better. 2 different “parking officers” have furiously blown their whistles in my face telling me I needed to use their “parking”. And today I nearly ran over two women at the Lang Tu Duc Tomb who were blocking the road insisting I had to park my bicycle at their shop.

The only saving grace I have seen so far, sadly enough, is the uniformed men at Da Nang Train Station that regulate the touts and the queue-jumpers with efficiency (and batons).

This is in stark contrast to the ambivalence of train travellers on the way to Hué that did not come to the assistance of two, young, foreign women being harassed by a drunken middle-aged Vietnamese man. I felt terrible being a big, fat, Westerner trying to gently push him away in a country where I barely speak 10 words of the language, but someone had to do the right thing and no one else stepped up.

Here is a simple argument about why Vietnam has a tourism problem. I’m a fairly well travelled, very tolerant, middle-aged Australian on a trip to SE Asia for a year. I like to learn about history and languages and that’s why I travel. I have $35K AUD to spend on my travels this year. I spent a month in Chiang Mai, 2 weeks in Laos, a further 2 weeks in Thailand and now 2 weeks in Vietnam.

I’m leaving Vietnam because I’m not welcome here. (Before anyone gets too excited, not every Western man goes to SE Asia looking for sex tourism: so please don’t pretend that is part of this argument).

I’m going to spend the rest of my year and the rest of my money in Thailand where I’m made to feel welcome.


October 24, 2012 at 15:32

Unfortunately, there is a mentality here in Vietnam of "I'd rather have two dollars today then two hundred tomorrow". This is a concept that is integral to the society  that doesn't really allow for strategic planning of any kind. This is probably due in part to a very long history of foreign control and war. People here have developed the ability to think and live in the "now"
If you look at all aspects of Vietnamese society, culture and business you will see the same thing cropping up over and over. However, I think this is why it is one of the most peaceful countries at this point in history. People here tend to enjoy the ride rather than fighting to attain the goal. We westerners may find that difficult to understand, but I think it makes for a happier, if somewhat poorer economically, society.

Gutter Oil
September 15, 2012 at 22:10

this, i would have to agree 100 percent!

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