Vietnam has opened its doors and welcomed visitors from around the globe as it has grown and developed at an astounding pace.
|International visitors to Hanoi during the celebrations|
However, for some reason, those people drawn to a city such as Hanoi, are returning in small numbers. It is estimated by the Economist newspaper that Thailand has a 50% return rate from visitors. In comparison, Hanoi is only credited with 5% of visitors ever coming back.
The 1,000 year anniversary of Hanoi was supposed to be the city’s chance to shine, a moment of glory, and a message to the world that Vietnam has a bright and open future. In an abundance of ways, the city put on a great show and achieved these goals. However, the tourism industry struggled to accommodate its guests due mainly to a lack of information. Many complained of complications and confusion in what to do and where to go during the capital city’s millennium celebrations. One cyclo driver shared that during the ten days designated to celebrate Hanoi’s 1,000 years, foreign customers “dropped significantly”.
Amidst all the grandeur and events were tourists, eager to participate but completely overwhelmed at the lack of organization. The events weren’t marketed in advance and there wasn’t much of an official agenda available to the public. The celebrations can undoubtedly be considered a major success however, there are some important lessons the tourism industry must acknowledge, and plenty of places close by that they can look to for ideas in an area that Vietnam has not caught up to its neighbors in.
The celebrations were amazing for Hanoi’s millennium year but they were in many ways unorganized and the city was under-prepared for its tourists. The government had estimated that it would draw some 800,000 tourists for the events but little has been done to track the actual numbers. Promoting the event outside of Vietnam was not done properly. It has been pointed out that promotions, such as flights, were only offered LEAVING Hanoi, not coming to Hanoi. The city was abuzz with excitement but few knew what was happening. Hotels, travel agents and taxi drivers were unable to offer the who, what, when, where and why because they were never informed. Events were difficult to track and follow for the tourism industry and even more so for the tourists.
The Old Quarter’s streets were closed off on Friday and Saturday night, the crowds were huge but nobody seemed to know why they were crowding the streets as planned events were not clearly announced to the public and the 29 planned firework displays were trimmed down to one, at the National Stadium, quite an inconvenient distance from the city center for tourists. Even Vietnam’s special invited guests were caught in traffic or stuck on buses as flow to the stadium was completely at a standstill due to a lack of preparation for traffic control.
Many local Hanoians chose not to leave their homes as the traffic and streets were over-packed with people, many who swarmed in from the country side hoping to catch a glimpse. An overwhelming majority of the foreign tourists who were visiting Hanoi were visiting by chance, not specifically because of the celebrations. Most we spoke with attributed it strictly to coincidence. Visitors were eager to participate but found it difficult. Sara Andolsek, a tourist visiting from the USA shared, “It\'s great to be in Vietnam and see the excitement of the Hanoians. It would have been nice to have been able to attend more events to understand their excitement and culture but finding out what was happening and when it was happening proved very difficult.”
One tourist expressed his frustrations saying, “I flew all the way to Vietnam for the anniversary. I was under the impression that October 10 would be a massive city-wide party but near the city center of Hoan Kiem, it seemed that there was nothing particularly special happening. My hotel didn’t know where to direct me or offer ways for me to participate in the events. It was disappointing to have to watch it from a television.”
Hanoi and Vietnam have so much to be proud of and have come such a long way very quickly but the people of this great country weren’t really given the opportunity to soak in these events properly due to a fundamental lack of organization and a last second effort to make too much happen too fast. The tourism industry was left out of the mix and never offered the opportunity to promote and package the events outside of Vietnam, thus leaving hotel owners and tourism companies completely out of the loop.
Vietnam can proudly celebrate its accomplishments but it has a long ways to go to develop a sustainable tourism industry that encourages travelers to visit and more importantly to visit more than just once. Somewhere, lost in all the celebrating and preparing for this once-in-a-lifetime event, the opportunity it created for tourism was lost in translation and confusion. Hanoi deserves to be wished a happy birthday and can learn valuable lessons from this for its future.
The millennium celebrations were a huge success for this city and this country in many ways, that should not be discounted however, they were also a highlight of what tourism will need to do in order to keep the people coming. Great strides have been made in tourism but now, more than ever, it is time to make it easier for people to come and experience the wonderful culture of Vietnam.