Always a premier tourism destination in the country, Huế city plans to take it up several notches with a renewed focus on longer stays by both domestic and international visitors in the former imperial capital.
Efforts by local tourism authorities have already borne fruit and they are confident of building on their success in the coming years.
Last year, the city welcomed 3.8 million visitors, marking a 16.6 per cent year-on-year increase. A remarkable aspect of this growth was a 42.5 per cent increase in the number of international visitors.
Tourism earnings rose 10 per cent to VNĐ3.5 trillion or US$154 million in 2017, helping the sector’s social revenue, meaning earnings of other sectors servicing tourists, reach VNĐ8.8 trillion or US$387 million.
It is also noteworthy that among foreign tourists to the city last year, according to figures released by the Tourism Department of Thừa Thiên- Huế Province, South Koreans made up 25.5 per cent of the total, the French accounted for 9.6 per cent and those from the UK, 6.2 per cent. The number of visitors from the US, Germany, Thailand, Australia and Japan also registered appreciable increases.
Nguyễn Văn Phúc, deputy director of the local tourism department, was pleased that the increase in the number visitors was accompanied by higher use of accommodations in the city.
He said this happened because of an intensified focus on tourism and diversification of tourism products, offering more choices to visitors.
“The business community and local residents have lent their hands to developing tourism, helping highlight traditional Huế tourism products while creating new services.
“Many opened homestay and community based ecotourism services while others offered biking tours to outlying sites, a good way to enjoy the green ambiance of Huế.”
Phúc also emphasised that the city’s night programme had contributed to the strong growth of tourism last year. For decades, Huế had been known as a city that went to “sleep early,” with little to offer in terms of night life. The authorities set out to change that, and are enjoying “initial results.”
|A re-enaction of royal patrol in the night show in Huế citadel. — VNS Photo Nguyễn Văn Sum|
The department found a sharp increase in tourists staying longer than a day in Huế instead of “fleeing” to Hội An, Đà Nẵng or Phong Nha in Quảng Bình for staying the night after spending the day in the city.
In April last year, the Huế Monuments Conservation Centre, a local government body managing relics built by the country’s last monarchy – the Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945), lit up the former imperial palace and introduced a night show on the premises. It entertains visitors every night with royal games, martial arts performances, Huế music and a re-enaction of royal patrol.
Phan Thanh Hải, director of the centre, said the night show had stopped more than 70 years of darkness at the palace at night and partly helped Huế get rid of the reputation of being a boring night destination.
“The night show played a part in last year’s tourism success of the centre, with the monuments receiving three million turns of visits, making a total contribution of VNĐ320 billion to the local government’s budget,” Hải said.
Last October, local authorities turned streets in the city’s backpacker area into exclusively pedestrian ones at the weekend, aiming to give visitors more space to enjoy evening entertainments in the area.
Phúc said the pedestrian street pilot project had shown some effectiveness in keeping visitors late into the night.
|Visitors at a monument inside the royal palace in Huế. — VNS Photo Phước Bửu|
However, industry insiders have cautioned that local authorities need to work harder on enhancing the city’s appeal if recent successes are to be sustained.
They’ve also stressed that the authentic identity of Huế needs to be maintained amidst all the changes that are introduced to reinvigorate the local tourism industry.
Acknowledging this, Phúc said that while culture and heritage played a key role, tourism products using them remained mundane. New products, including the night show in the royal palace, are not interesting enough to entertain visitors of different ages and from different culture, he said.
The tourism department, for its part, feels constrained by a lack of infrastructure, including transportation means, delays in developing cultural spaces, like streets designated for local foods, and modernising the Phú Bài Airport.
Tour operators in the locality want a cleaner tourism ambience.
According to Đặng Đình Sĩ, founder and CEO of Oriental Sky Travel and Tours, hygiene at almost all sites in the city needs to improve.
“We need more trash bins and hygienic toilets and hand washing liquid soaps at places like the Phú Bài Airport, Huế Railway Station and bus stations, and at heritage sites like the royal citadel and kings’ tombs,” he said.
“We also need to ensure friendly reception at tourist desks and ticket booths at the royal citadel, tombs, Thanh Toàn Village and other sites. Every visitor needs to feel welcome.”
Sĩ also suggested the rearrangement of stalls selling cold drinks, preventing vendors from entering the sites and bothering tourists. “At each site, tourism authorities should have signboards with clear instructions as well as at exits thanking and bidding visitors farewell.”
|Re-enaction of royal patrol seen every morning in the royal palace in Huế. VNS Photo Phước Bửu|
In the pipeline
Local tourism official Phúc said the central city was optimistic about making tourism a major economic sector.
“This year, the sector targets to receive 4.2 million turns of visits, half of them by foreigners, for an increase of 12 per cent over the last year. With those numbers, the sector expects the turnover will increase 16 per cent, earning around VNĐ4.2 trillion or US$185 million,” he said.
Authorities are also targeting a modern upgrade for the city.
Late in 2017, the provincial People’s Committee worked with qualified investors including the VinGroup on plans to develop resorts, golf courses and shopping malls in the city.
The Prime Minister has also agreed to expand the local Phú Bài Airport by investing in a new terminal and runway.
With such projects in the pipeline, in the not too distant future, Huế is set to undergo a transformation and emerge as a full-fledged tourism destination in its own right. — VNS