Foreign visitors go sightseeing at the Nhiêu Lộc-Thị Nghè Canal by boat in HCM City. Despite HCM City’s dense network of rivers and canals, waterway tourism has fallen short of the city’s expectation that it would become the city’s main tourism product by 2020. — VNA/VNS Photo An Hiếu
HCM CITY — Despite HCM City’s dense network of rivers and canals, waterway tourism has not matched its potential, thus failing the city’s expectations it would become the main tourism product by 2020.
Phan Xuân Anh, chairman of Du Ngoạn Việt Company, one of the few travel firms to operate river tours to Cần Giờ and Củ Chi and of inner city canals, said conditions are not conducive to organising such tours.
The number of bridges with low clearance is among the biggest problems facing river tourism, he said.
On the route from Bạch Đằng Wharf to Củ Chi, for instance, boats have to travel under the Bình Lợi Bridge, which has very low clearance, meaning large vessels cannot pass through.
Large vessels cannot reach Sài Gòn Port because Phú Mỹ Bridge has a clearance of only 50 metres. Most ships bringing tourists to HCM City thus have to dock at Hiệp Phước in Nhà Bè District or ports in Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu from where the tourists have to reach HCM City by road.
Sometimes for just a dinner his company has to bus hundreds of tourists from Hiệp Phước to the downtown, Anh said.
Last year his company invested VNĐ10 billion on boat tours along the Nhiêu Lộc – Thị Nghè Canal.
Though the canal has become clean now, traversing its 4.5km is a big challenge due to nine low-slung bridges, he said.
State-owned Saigontourist also started six river tours, but only three are still in operation.
Another tour, this one of Bến Nghé and Tàu Hủ canals along Võ Văn Kiệt Highway, has been suspended after failing to attract customers.
The city developed tours from HCM City to the Mekong Delta, Cambodia, and Đồng Nai at a total cost of VNĐ1 trillion (US$45.4 million) for the Government and VNĐ10 trillion for the private sector, but several tours to Đồng Nai and Bình Dương have been suspended and city tours are not as popular as expected.
Red tape is another hurdle, Anh said, explaining how boats travelling between HCM City and Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu have to seek permission from both authorities.
In HCM City, a boat needs to get permission for operating from Bạch Đằng Wharf, and if it wants to pick up tourists from upriver in District 2, more permissions have to be obtained, he said.
Huỳnh Văn Sơn, a tourism expert, said HCM City is not ready yet for river tourism, pointing to unstable water environment condition , lack of interesting sights along its water bodies and insufficiency of piers. — VNS