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More needs to be done to spur cruise tourism

Vietnam has natural conditions to attract yachts and cruise ships but authorities should make concerted efforts to allow this kind of luxury tourism to thrive, said Singaporean experts in a report on sea tourism prospects.

The report presented by a Singaporean working group calls for comprehensive solutions to cope with problems revolving around seaport infrastructure, port management and travel agencies. The report shows views of private companies in fields related to cruise ship business, the Singapore Tourism Board, the Singapore Cruise Centre and cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean International.

The report is an outcome of two fact-finding trips by the group to local seaports and coastal destinations in 2009 and 2010 at the invitation of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT). The report highlights the nation’s long coastline as a huge potential to lure visitors on yachts and cruise ships.

For cruise tourists, the World Heritage-listed Halong Bay is a must-see destination, according to the report. From there, they can continue their journey southward along the Vietnamese coastline to see islands such as those offshore Nha Trang City or even along the Saigon River.

However, multiple high fees are discouraging cruise tourism. There are now no regulations on yacht visits, so local port authorities often collect various fees from yachts that make port calls in Vietnam.

This explains why foreign yachts often avoid cruising to Vietnam. The country has lost lots of opportunities because yacht owners often spend a lot thanks to their deep pockets, says the report. The Singaporean experts urged clear-cut regulations on fees, taxes and licenses at all ports so that more yachts and cruise ships can travel along Vietnam’s coastline.

The experts added the Government and related agencies need to coordinate to develop plans for coastal tourism development. A unit should be established to take charge of supervising provincial-level plans to avoid overlaps in development plans.

For example, when HCMC build more bridges to connect both banks of the downstream Saigon River in the future, huge cruise ships cannot make their way through beneath the bridges.

The difficult passage of ships under the Phu My Bridge in HCMC and the cable car system in Nha Trang are also mentioned in the report. In particular, the Phu My Bridge makes it impossible for cruise ships with a height of above 37.75 meter high to travel up the Saigon River to the city’s downtown area while the cable car system in Nha Trang prevents ships from entering Nha Trang port.

One of the biggest obstacles for local cruise tourism development is the lack of specialized ports for large cruise ships. Due to the lack of tourism ports, ships must use commercial ports.

However, the Singaporean experts conceded the current tough economic conditions make it difficult for Vietnam to develop specialized ports as huge amounts of capital are needed. The experts suggested using the commercial ports for tourism purposes by developing basic facilities such as piers, restrooms and car parks.

HCMC is a gateway for cruise tourists to the southern region, especially Vung Tau City.

The experts highly valued the development potentials of Phu Quoc Island and asked Phu Quoc to maintain its cultural identity rather than compete with other tourism islands like Phuket, Bali and Koh Samui.

An Thoi Port south of Phu Quoc Island is deemed as most appropriate to serve cruise ships. Areas surrounding the port should be developed into a fishing village with markets, seafood restaurants and souvenir shops, and into eco-tourism destinations.


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