by Minh Thi
Last weekend, I travelled to Ninh Binh Province with 12 friends. The trip was initiated by my curiosity about the Trang An tourism area, featured in the Vietnamese film Thien menh Anh hung (Blood Letter).
The landscapes of Trang An looked so magnificent on screen that it left a memorable impression on me, urging me to visit the real place.
I was not alone in my intention. My friend, Le Vu Cuong, a student at the Ha Noi University of Science and Technology, also paid the area a visit a week ago for the same reason.
"I wanted to see Trang An with my own eyes, having found it so beautiful and poetic on screen."
Many of my friends, who only saw the trailers, were just as curious about Ninh Binh's tourism sites and had the same intention as Cuong and me of travelling there.
According to the Ninh Binh Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, during January, the time when the film was promoted and shown in cinemas, it was estimated that the province welcomed 292,600 visitors, an increase of 76.5 per cent against the same period of the previous year. The most visited local destinations were Trang An and the Bai Dinh Pagoda, where the film was made.
Do Dinh Tuong, a tour guide from the Ha Noi-based Green Lotus Tourism Company, said during Lunar New Year (between January 23 and February 20) the number of tours to Ninh Binh had considerably increased.
Of course, the increase of tourists may have been the result of various factors. But who knows, it could just as well be due to the film's influence.
Victor Vu, the Vietnamese-American director of Blood Letter, said he had spent nearly one and a half month searching for suitable locations for his film.
"After each trip, I felt so excited and proud of the country's landscapes and wished to bring the beautiful scenery to the screen and convey my feelings during my time spent in each area to the audience."
According to Phan Gia Nhat Linh, a film critic and director, people do indeed visit places after watching films in Viet Nam, although not as often as in some other foreign countries.
In 2010, another Vietnamese film, Nhung nu hon ruc ro (Brilliant Kisses), attracted a large number of tourists to the Ngoc Suong Resort in Cam Ranh Bay, southern Khanh Hoa Province, where the film was made.
"My friends could not even book air tickets to Cam Ranh at the time," Linh said.
Nguyen Quang Dung, director of the film said: "The film later helped change the place from a quiet to a frequently fully booked resort."
When Lord of the Rings was screened in cinemas, the annual tourist influx to New Zealand jumped from 1.7 million in 2010 to 2.4 million in 2006 - a 40 per cent surge, according to USA Today.
Other movies such as Mamma Mia!, Under the Tuscan Sun, or In Bruges were also reported by Western newspapers to have helped attract international tourists to Greece, Italy and Belgium respectively.
"In many countries, the film industry has a close partnership with tourism," Linh commented.
"For example, the Ministry of Tourism and Sports in Thailand took responsibility for organising film festivals."
South Korea even promoted movie tours, which took tourists to the film locations of Winter Sonata and Stairway to Heaven amongst others.
In Viet Nam, however, the impact of domestic films was still not as large as that of foreign movies due to a lack of commercially orientated focus, Linh said.
Director Dung said film crews sometimes came up against unyielding local authorities who seldom allowed favourable conditions for shooting movies.
He added that Viet Nam had indeed made many beautiful films in the past, but that most of them seldom attracted large audiences and thus failed to make any impact on tourism.
Director Le Hoang held the same opinion, stating that the attraction and impact of Vietnamese films were not influential enough.
He added that both the film and tourism industries had failed to exploit potential opportunities to gain success.
"If Viet Nam wishes to follow in South Korea's footsteps, there should be some ideas and initiatives taken to promote co-operation between the two sides well before films are made," said Hoang.
In my opinion, the tourism industry should learn from the successful experiences of other countries such as South Korea and New Zealand, where movie tours are offered to those interested in visiting filming locations. There are still many opportunities for the industry to take advantage of apart from only improving airline quality and promoting tourism websites. — VNS