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.