Waking the Dragon
While Halong is undoubtedly the main attraction for all visitors to Quang Ninh, the province is also trying to promote its cultural diversity as it is home to multiple ethnic groups-besides the Kinh (Vietnam’s largest ethnic group), it counts Dzao, Tay, San Diu, San Chi, Hoa, Nung, Muong and other ethnic minorities in its population. Each has its own unique features, including dialect, clothing, customs and festivals.
The northeastern province is home to myriad historical relics and great architecture heritage sites. There are also numerous traditional annual festivals which attract great numbers of visitors. For example, Yen Tu pagoda, a well-known religious site perched on the top of a mountain, is a fascinating and picturesque attraction.
Founded by King Tran Nhan Tong (1258-1308) after he abdicated his throne and devoted his life to Buddhism, Yen Tu is a complex of pagodas, temples, towers and shrines commemorating the Buddha and heroic episodes in the country’s history.
Cua Ong Temple, Bach Dang historical relic, Long Tien Pagoda and Quan Lan Communal House all attract a large number of visitors, especially during festivals. The annual Yen Tu festival is held from the tenth day of the first lunar month until the end of the third month, drawing thousands of pilgrims.
From the ancient to the modern, Quang Ninh also boasts destinations such as Tuan Chau island, which houses a relatively new tourism complex which features a wide range of entertainment facilities for holiday-markers. This area is also luring increasing numbers of foreign investors and developers looking to create large tourism projects as they are well aware of the potential and strengths of tourism in Quang Ninh and Halong.
Quang Ninh is certainly eager to receive more proposals from investors with an emphasis in preserving and sustaining the province’s natural landscape and environment.
Now one of the country’s most attractive and famous festivals, the Halong Carnival helps to showcase everything that Quang Ninh has to offer. Rich in culture, history and national treasures, this is clearly just the beginning.
Despite the financial crisis, Halong Bay is still attracting an increasing number of foreign tourists who come to board cruise ships such as the Star Cruise, Costa, Silver Sea, Seaborn, Nautica and SS Voyager. Tens of thousands of high-end travelers have visited Halong Bay on theses luxury cruises.
The Malaysian Star Cruise operates from Sanya to Halong Bay, with an average of three ships weekly. A new ocean route between China’s Fangchenggang city and Halong Bay has been launched officially by Hong Gai Travel to bring hundreds of tourists to the bay every Friday. The Chinese Henna cruises also plans to run three to four trips per week from Halong Bay to Danang, while its sister Beiyou cruise uses Tuan Chau port as a stop twice a week.
At the moment, the local authorities are trying their utmost to create many more new and attractive spots to diversify tourism products for international cruises in Van Don and Bai Tu Long Bay.
Not plain sailing
Despite all this, the province is still considered as developing. Even Halong Bay is seen as relatively untapped. Many tourism experts complain about the recent promotion campaigns for Halong Bay, claiming the images are out-of-date and the messages are unclear.
The main issue is the length of stay, which remains very short for most visitors at just one or two days- substantially less than the average length of time spent in Danang, Nha Trang or on Phu Quoc Island. There are many reasons for this, but chief among them is the poor infrastructure for tourism.
“Quang Ninh and Halong Bay tourism is based mainly on the natural treasures, while other tourism products are developing,” says Pham Lan Anh of Victory Cruises.
Quang Ninh province does not aim to promote its tourism potential to be a leisure and MICE tourism paradise alike Danang, Nha Trang or Phu Quoc.
The strong point of Quang Ninh is sightseeing tourism, the local authority chooses the right way to develop, but carries it out at a still slow pace. Therefore, it has not met the increasing requirements in both quality and diversity of tourism services and products,” says Le Van Quang, marketing manager of VSpirit Cruises.
Time to change
“We need to show guests a prettier, safer and cleaner Halong Bay to convince them to return and to stay longer,” says Le Phuong Nhi, manager of Indochina Sails.
“The local authorities should create many more policies to encourage businesses to upgrade their services while contributing to preserve the natural environment,” says Le Van Quang.
He adds they ought to speed up the process of building infrastructure and training the labour force of tourism.
“The state officials should issue long-term plans to develop new tourism products and raise the awareness of the locals and tourists about preserving environment. They also need to improve the service standards,” says Pham Lan Anh.
Bobby Nguyen of Active Travel Asia believes it is a key to have close cooperation between local authorities, businesses, and the local community to create strength.
Such veteran Halong Bay businesses as Indochina Sails and Bai Tho Cruises have invested a lot to promote the attraction of Halong Bay to the world.
Throughout regular international tourism fairs in Europe, Asia, America and Australia, Indochina Sails introduce their high-end services and tourism products in Halong Bay to luxury markets for upper leisure and other destinations around the province.
Bai Tho Cruise works to preserve Halong Bay’s environment by coordinating with the National University Hanoi and Japan’s JICA to replace normal gas with bio gas.
Younger companies such as VSpirit Cruises and Active Travel Asia hold cleaning campaigns and ask their staff to collect rubbish at fishing villages and clean beaches regularly. They also run green tours with bicycles.
Quang Ninh Province and Halong Bay are mystical and magnificent, but local authorities, travel companies, hotels and boat operators must cooperate together to ensure longer stays in the land of the dragon.