Last year Binh Thuan online published an article entitled “Strategy for Development of tourism in Vietnam to 2020” and “Master Plan for tourism development Vietnam to 2020 and vision to 2030”. The article concerned the government’s plans to boost tourism into the area, and to cooperate with the tourism officials in Ho Chi Minh City and Lam Dong (Dalat) to set up a “tourism development triangle”.
The goals sound lofty, but the reality is a long way from that ideal. The government officials who created these plans start with a number of premises that show a lack of understanding of the needs or desires of foreign tourists who visit the area, as well as the needs of tourism establishments outside of the Ham Tien/Mui Ne core area. For example, they have held what they refer to as “cultural events”, such as a hot-air balloon festival and two food festivals that have had no effect on the advancement of foreign tourism. I was one of only a handful of foreigners who attended the balloon festival and the most recent food festival was held in the center of Phan Thiet. It attracted many locals but few tourists.
Rather than informing tourists about everything that Phan Thiet area offers and giving them choices of where to stay, the plan exacerbates the misunderstanding of both tourists and tourism companies that think Ham Tien and Phu Hai are part of Mui Ne. This adds to the confusion of tourists, concerning the actual location of their hotels and the establishments they wish to visit and does a disservice to the rest of the Phan Thiet area.
Additionally, the plans do not address or even mention the most glaring deterrent to future tourism into the area; The article talks about an investment in cultural events, road construction, signage, parks, markets, cable television, training of workers, an airport, promotions and trade shows, yet not a dong for cleaning up the area so that it is a pleasant oasis for visitors.
Since the plan was written, tourism into Binh Thuan has dropped significantly. Some of that drop can be attributed to the deterioration of the Russian ruble and the riots against the Chinese in 2014, but much of it can also be attributed to the internet posting of tourists who come here and are disappointed by the amount of garbage at the sand dunes, the fairy stream, Taku mountain, along the sides of the roads and most disturbingly, on Binh Thuan’s beaches.
As for the programs that are mentioned in the plan, little has been done in the past year. After an initial burst of activity, construction of the new airport has either slowed or stopped altogether. Improvement along Nguyen Dinh Chieu, the main street through Ham Tien, has consisted of filling in some potholes usually about three months after they appear. The plan to build an oceanfront park and promenade at the Bo Ke area of Ham Tien consisted of the police tearing down some of the makeshift structures which have since reappeared and multiplied.
Binh Thuan has yet to promote tourism at any major tourism fair. They have finally, however, attended ITE in Ho Chi Minh City, but have not yet gone to the ASEAN Tourism Forum, or to ITB; the largest tourism fair in the world. However, the authorities are very good about sending out directives and printing banners in Vietnamese. They also produced a promotional video, also in Vietnamese.
If the first year of the program is any indication, tourism growth into Binh Thuan will either stagnate or deteriorate, while private investment in the area waits for a government that understands the priorities of international tourists and acts to address them.