|Travel experience: A foreign tourist chats with local ethnic women in Sa Pa Town – a popular tourism destination in the northwestern region. The region has significant potential for tourism with more than 30 ethnic groups boasting distinct cultures and major tourist sites such as the Dong Van Stone Plateau, Ma Pi Leng Pass and the historic Dien Bien Phu battle site. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Ha
DIEN BIEN (VNS) — Most participants at a conference held in downtown Dien Bien Phu City yesterday agreed that stepping up co-operation was the best way to develop regional tourism in Dien Bien and other northwestern provinces.
The conference gathered more than 200 representatives from central agencies, major cities, foreign diplomats, development co-operative agencies, investors and travel agencies. Participants shared their experiences and set up relationships so they could work together to develop intra-regional tourism and link the region's routes with the rest of the country.
Addressing the event, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc stressed that the region had significant tourism potential.
"Hence, it is necessary to enhance co-operation between provinces both inside and outside the region to develop sustainable tourism and improve locals' living standard," he said.
Ho Anh Tuan, deputy minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, stressed that the northwestern provinces' infrastructure remained poor, tourism activities were small-scale and services were not professional enough.
"We should have a master plan for developing tourism in the whole region with key destinations and products instead of letting each province follow its own way. This will help us avoid competition," said Vu The Binh, vice chairman of Viet Nam Tourism Association.
The region has significant potential for tourism, with more than 30 ethnic groups boasting distinct cultures and major tourist sites such as the Dong Van Stone Plateau, Ma Pi Leng Pass and the former historic Dien Bien Phu battle site.
"Tourism has become an important economic sector that has made active contributions to the region's socio-economic development," Truong Xuan Cu, an organising member said.
By the end of last year, Official Development Assistance (ODA) capital for the region reached nearly US$2.6 billion and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) reached more than $8.1 million by the end of March, while foreign non-governmental aid increased from $10 million in 2003 to $50 million in 2013. These resources helped the region upgrade local infrastructure, tackle poverty and protect the environment.
Provinces inside and outside the region have created various co-operative models to develop tourism, such as the "Returning to Origin" programme between Lao Cai, Yen Bai and Phu Tho provinces. Another joint programme between Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Son La, Hoa Binh, Phu Tho, Ha Giang, Lai Chau and Dien Bien aims to set up a tourism route passing through poor villages to help improve local people's lives through tourism.
An EU-funded project titled "Environmentally and Socially Responsible Tourism Capacity Development Programme" (ESRT) has helped the region allocate tourism destinations, build a tourism trademark and develop a tourism community.
"Eight provinces in the region will co-operate with the EU-funded project to set up some models of community tourism. We want locals to benefit from the project," said Nguyen Huu Son, director of the Lao Cai Culture, Sports and Tourism Department.
However, tourism development in the region still faces many obstacles.
"The biggest difficulty for developing tourism in the area is the lack of adequate tourism infrastructure. It is not yet a relaxing tourism site with professional services," said Nguyen Manh Cuong, deputy director of the Viet Nam Tourism Administration.
At the recent Viet Nam International Tourism Market, eight provinces in the region sought investment for 16 key tourism projects, but they received very poor feedback due to "local natural disadvantages", he said.
A lack of human resources creates another hindrance for local tourism development.
"Provincial tourism management staff have not advised authorities on a plan for development," he said, suggesting that provinces make it easier for tourists to access traditional culture spaces like "love markets" and ecological tourism sites.
Don Taylor, an expert from the EU-funded project, said that while the community tourism model seemed more feasible than resort development, people engaging in community tourism projects should be properly trained and local infrastructure required further investment.
Last year, the northwestern region received 1.23 million foreign and 6.5 million domestic tourists and earned an revenue of VND7,200 billion ($360 million) from tourism.
By 2015, local authorities expect to welcome 1.5 million foreign and 9 million domestic tourists per year and make VND11,000 billion ($520 million) from tourism. — VNS