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Sunday, 22 March 2020 14:27
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Regional linkage in tourism development in the Northwest provinces of Vietnam

(LLCT) - Regional linking to create typical and unique tourism products to attract tourists have been implemented in many parts of the world as well as in Vietnam. For the Northwest, linkage is a good trend, which has been actively engaged in many localities to develop tourism, some linkage models have shown initial results. This article aims to provide some suggestions on regional linking policy for Northwestern tourism development based on analyzing results as well as the limitations that need to be overcome in Northwestern provinces.

Keywords: regional links, tourism development, Northwest.

Today, tourism has become the largest industry in the world. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, revenue from tourism has surpassed the production of automobiles, steel, electronics, and agriculture. In many countries, tourism is one of the top three economic sectors. Tourism is no longer confined to a region or a nation, but it has become a global issue. Many countries have used tourism as a criterion to assess economic development as well as the people’s life quality in their country. Tourism for each country is the most important source of foreign exchange earnings.

In the current stage of globalization, the trend of integration is an inevitable rule of development. Linking recently has become the motto for tourism development to catch up with the world trend of tourists visiting Asia rather than Europe. Linking regions to create unique tourism products to attract the attention of tourists has been implemented in many parts of the world as well as in Vietnam. Regional integration enables tourism products to take advantage of their many strengths, enhance competitiveness, and sustainability. Regions and sub-regions links in tourism development contribute to cultivating advantages of scale, save expenses in advertising, organize tours, as well as investing in infrastructure and training costs. They also limit competition among localities in the region with similar tourism products in order to increase added value for tourism products. However, regional integration in tourism requires that the linkage actors need to be similar in terms of territorial space and resources in order to promote their strengths and make the most of tourism resources and facilities for travel products.

1. Some models of tourism development links in the Northwest region

The Northwest region of Vietnam is a particularly important strategic area in terms of socio-economics, national defense, and security accounting for one-third of the country’s area with more than 10 million people. The Northwest is blessed with majestic beauty, unique terrain, climate, geology, landscapes, valuable ecosystems, and tourist attractions. The Northwest has beautiful landscapes such as the Dong Van Rock Plateau, Mu Cang Chai, Phansipan peak, Ma Pi Leng pass, Pha Din pass, Pa Khoang lake, Da river lake, Thac Ba waterfall, Na Hang, Nui Coc, Ban Gioc waterfall, Pac Po cave, Nguom Ngam cave, etc. The region is home to valuable national parks such as Hoang Lien, Ba Be, Xuan Son, Pu Mat... and hot springs such as Kim Boi, Thanh Thuy, My Lam, Uva... with temperate climates such as in Sapa, Moc Chau, Mau Son, Sin Ho. All of them have colorful cultures and unique culinary cuisine. The Northwest is also associated with the values of the national construction cause and defense such as the relics of Hung Temple, the ancient rocky beaches of Sa Pa, Xin Man, Dien Bien Phu, War Zone Tan Trao, Safety Zone Dinh Hoa, Bac Me, etc.

The goal of Northwestern tourism development is to become a typical tourist area, a well-known destination with unique, cultural, and ecological experiences. Attracting funds from tourists to make important contributions to the economic restructuring and socio-economic development of the whole region. By 2020, the Northwest will welcome 2.3 million international visitors, 14 million domestic visitors, with 1,900 accommodation establishments and 40,000 accommodation rooms; the total tourism revenue is projected to reach VND 22,000 billion(1).

For the Northwest, tourism linking is a good trend, it is actively participated in by many localities to develop tourism, some linkage models have shown initial results. The promotion of cooperation links will facilitate Northwest tourism development in both depth and width, based on promoting the potential and strengths of each locality. For example, the model of linkages between 3 provinces of Lao Cai - Yen Bai - Phu Tho in the program “Travelling to the roots”. According to the Organizing Committee, since the birth of the product “Travelling to the roots”, the economic, social, and cultural aspects of the three provinces of Lao Cai, Yen Bai and Phu Tho have changed a lot. Previously, travelers could not find luxury hotels in Nghia Lo (Yen Bai) or Sapa (Lao Cai), now more luxury hotels have sprung up. In the three provinces, there are nearly 1,000 accommodation establishments, of which more than 100 are rated from 1 to 4 stars, with over 500 hotels and 260 restaurants to serve tourists.

Besides, typical tourism products developed thanks to the connection of tours, routes, tourist destinations, such as “The source of ancestral land”, “The pearl of Luc Yen land”, “The origin of the Northwest”, “The highland colors” have attracted visitors. Visitors can learn about customs, traditions, festivals, enjoy unique ethnic specialties, and explore caves in the Northwest highland.

The 6th program of “Across the Northern Vietnam Heritage Sites”, 2014 was a large-scale regional event with a variety of cultural, sports, and tourism activities to promote and introduce the potential the land, people, cultural, and tourism the six war-fighting provinces in Northern Vietnam have in general and Thai Nguyen province in particular. On that basis, it is to strengthen the relationship of exchange and cooperation among the provinces, at the same time they are attracting investors to link and exploit the potential of tourism development to attract more and more tourists to Viet Bac.

In 2008, a model of links among 8 Northwest provinces (Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Son La, Hoa Binh, Phu Tho, Ha Giang, Lai Chau, Dien Bien) was formed to develop tourism. The project was named “Northwest Road”, building tours through the poorest villages in the country aimed to reduce the poverty of the people using tourism. The model of tourism development linkage in 8 Northwest provinces took place in the context of socio-economic development with many new developments: economic recession, inflation spreading to most economies, and tourism activities. Facing these fluctuations, 8 expanded Northwest provinces cooperated and closely linked; consistently implemented the common goal according to the set plan. With the consent and close guidance of the leaders of the eight expanded Northwest provinces and the support of the tourism business community, the tourism industry indicators continue to grow and have achieved encouraging results. The number of tourists to the provinces in the region has increased significantly over the years, the quality of tours has made breakthroughs in each locality. In 2012, 8 Northwest provinces welcomed over 10.4 million tourists, an increase of 7% compared to 2011. Total social tourism revenue reached VND 4,328 billion, an increase of 4% compared to 2011. By 2017, the total number of tourists to 8 Northwestern provinces expanded to 24 million, an increase of 3.3% compared to 2016. The turnover reached VND 18,000 billion, an increase of 20% compared to 2016. Currently, in the 8 provinces, there are 1,305 accommodation establishments, with 16,776 rooms (including 1,196 hotels rated 1 to 4 stars, and 1,081 motels)(2). Many eco-tourism resorts in the area also affirm the brand, much appreciated by tourists for the quality of the services, such as Topas Ecolodge (Lao Cai); Village Vu Linh tourist area in Thac Ba Lake (Yen Bai); Panhouse (Ha Giang), Uva (Dien Bien). Accommodation establishments at the tourist destinations in 8 provinces have also increased in quantity and quality to better meet the needs of tourists. In particular, the cooperation program of 8 expanded Northwest provinces has provided unique, new, and typical tourism products with attractive tourist programs such as: exploring the “four great passages” in the Northwest; Northwestern roads; Northwest flowers bloom season; The northwestern arc tourism program has been designed and put into operation with many diversified and attractive forms. Coordinating with reputable travel agencies such as Vietravel, Vietran Tour, Hanoi Redtours, Saigontourist, etc. This helps tourists enjoy a full, peaceful, and pristine life. The provinces in the region have been creating brands for the names of the northern mountains such as the four most beautiful “mountain peaks” of Vietnam, O Quy Ho - the first pass, Pha Din - the legendary mountain pass. These monikers were coined to strongly develop community-based tourism, a sustainable “specialty” of the region’s tourism. Each province is also known for its unique feature: Dien Bien’s attraction is a long history, Ha Giang’s is community tourism in association with its new countryside; Lao Cai’s is eco-tourism and culture, and Son La’s is the Moc Chau Plateau(3).

2. Weaknesses on tourism development in the Northwest region

It can be seen that the potential for tourism resources of the Northwest is evident and diverse, but so far this is a less tapped area in tourism development, not yet effectively exploited and sustainably developed. It has not been developed equally to the size and nature of the region, nor the competitiveness compared to other tourist regions in the country although they are still low. Surprisingly, the Northwest region developed later than most, and is also the region with the most difficulties compared to other regions across the country, so the number of tourists to the region is limited. Tourism economic efficiency is still modest, accounting for a small proportion of the local economic structure. The average annual growth of the Northwest tourism industry is just over 10%, lower than the national average. According to statistics, the number of tourists to the Northwest every year accounts for only about 7% of the total tourists, although the number of tourists has been increasing year by year, but is still low in comparison to other regions. In 2013, only about 1.23 million international tourists came to the Northwest (accounting for 16% of the total number of international visitors to Vietnam) and the total tourism revenue of the region accounted for only 3.6% of that of the country. According to statistics from the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism in 2015, the number of international tourists to the Northwest was 1.6 million compared to 7.9 million international visitors of the country(4). According to the evaluation of the Steering Committee for tourism development cooperation program in the 8 Northwestern provinces, infrastructure conditions are still difficult, tourism activities are still spontaneous and unplanned, tourism products are simple, fragmented, and low quality. There are no big brands to attract domestic and foreign markets, human resources in the tourism industry are inadequate, weak, and lack professional training. Regarding the type of community tourism, it is not scientifically and methodically planned, many places in the Northwest have similar products, and eco-tourism areas have not been built.

In recent years, the exploitation of tourism in general and natural tourism resources, in particular, is still inadequate in the Northwest. Natural resources such as caves, lakes, rivers, hot springs, and primitive forests are being exploited unsustainably. At present, environmental problems in the Northwest provinces due to tourism activities are not too troublesome; however, environmental issues arising from other activities also affect tourism such as the lack of seasonal water, dryness, untreated waste, forest areas, especially increasingly narrowed primitive forests, biodiversity declines, and natural disasters which impedes people’s access to tourist destinations, etc. The increase in visitors also causes waste overload at some tourist sites leading to environmental degradation.

The results of international cooperation are modest compared to the potential and development prospects of the region due to the obstacles and challenges brought about by both objective and subjective factors, such as inconvenient traffic conditions, underdeveloped infrastructure, limited resources, low capability and competence of some local officials who fail to meet integration requirements and globalization.

Linking tourism development in the Northwest region has almost been entirely in the form of exchanging experiences. It has not been able to mobilize resources and encourage initiatives for investment. The achievements that have been obtained are not commensurate with the potential and advantages the region has. The region’s unique advantages have not been promoted, namely community-based tourism associated with ethnic culture and specific tourist destinations, such as resort and medical tourism, community tourism associated with historical sites, etc. On the other hand, cooperation activities in linking tourism development in the Northwest region still lack experts’ advice. Big tourism enterprises have reframed from joining hands with state management agencies in tourism and service development. The tourism products are not considered rich and bear the identities of the Northwest ethnic groups. The mechanism of cooperation between the 8 provinces has not yet clearly shown the binding responsibilities between provinces in participating in common activities which results in low implementation results. In addition, upgrading tourism infrastructure in contiguous regions among provinces has been neglected, affecting the alignment of tourism routes in the region(5).

3. Solutions to strengthen regional links in Northwest tourism development in the near future

Firstly, an effective linkage mechanism should be built.

The Northwest is a large region with rugged terrain, which makes it difficult to link tourism development for the whole region. To link tourism development, there should be spatial links of convenient transportation routes and time links. However, the Northwest has many different types of subregions and is connected by relatively convenient transportation routes for tourism development. To develop tourism in the Northwestern region, there must be many levels of association.

In order to implement the regional linkage, it is necessary to organize the development of a tourism committee at the regional level. The activity of the tourism committee mainly concerns strategic guidelines for the development of tourism in the whole region and coordinating related issues that provincial and subregional levels cannot implement. The committee can direct tourism through conferences on linking tourism across the region every two years and setting out major orientations for tourism development in the whole region.

Regarding sub-regional linkage, due to the characteristics of topography, transportation, economy, and society, the northern mountainous provinces have formed a number of sub-regions such as the Da River (4 provinces: Lai Chau, Dien Bien, Son La, Hoa Binh), Red River (Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Phu Tho), Lo River (Ha Giang and Tuyen Quang), sub-areas of Cao Bang, Lang Son and Bac Kan. Each sub-region has an arterial road running through such as Noi Bai - Lao Cai highway, national highway 6 (Hoa Binh - Son La - Dien Bien), national highway 2 (Ha Giang - Tuyen Quang), national highway 4 (Cao Bang - Lang Son)... In addition, there are other transport routes such as Ho Chi Minh road, 32, 279, etc. These roads become important infrastructure to build tourism links. The management apparatus of the sub-region needs to be developed including the Chairman of the province, the Director of the Department of Culture - Sports - Tourism, the President of the Association of Tourism Enterprises, and the leader of the tourism operation bureau. These importasnt figures and organizations are tasked with proposing collaborative links on tourism for 1-year periods and 5-year periods. At the same time, subregional leaders also orient solutions and organize the implementation of inter-regional tourism development projects.

Along with regional linking, the Northwest provinces also need to link with key tourism localities such as Hanoi, Quang Ninh, and Ho Chi Minh City. They should also be joined with cross-border tourism associations to attract tourists from China and Laos, especially localities with international border gates, namely Lao Cai, Lai Chau, and Dien Bien. The tourism business system in the Northwest provinces is of a small scale, so aside from capacity building, the linkage factor has a very important role in making use of each other’s strengths in information, products, and promos, etc.

In fact, over the past several years, the tourism development cooperation block of 8 Northwest provinces has expanded with the attention of the Central Government, the creative initiative of localities in the region, the technical assistance of organizations such as SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, and the EU Project. Some positive achievements have been obtained contributing to sustainable tourism development, poverty reduction for communities directly supported by tourism development, the supporting capacity building for tourism managers and human resources in 8 provinces, building unique and non-duplicated tourism products in localities. These results have brought practical effects including contributing to the promotion of tourism development in the region and within each locality.

Secondly, the provinces are recommended to cooperate in researching and developing tourism brands and products with the characteristics of each region and each locality.

Practically in many regions, tourism links are ineffective because the localities all have similar tourism products, for example enjoying Thai cuisine, sleeping on Thai stilt houses, buying brocade from Thai people. But when implementing the linkage plan, each province needs to select local characteristics, initially to promote and create tourism products. Although it is the same plateau, the same type of mountain eco-tourism, the tourist activities in Moc Chau are different from those in Sapa and also unlike Dong Van with their rock plateau. Each province needs to find its own advantages and create its own tourism products this is an important issue to promote the strengths of regional links.

Thirdly, it is necessary to attach importance to tourism promotion.

Previously, tourism promotion in the Northwest was spontaneous in each locality, but since the implementation of the linkage, and with the help of SNV experts and the EU project, the 8 expanded Northwest provinces each studied to set up a logo, website in Vietnamese and English, and participated in many international fairs. Thanks to this common promotion, the provinces have effectively promoted tourism. In addition, the provinces in the region should focus on investing in market research, implementing programs to promote common destinations in the Northwest at domestic and international events and specialized fairs, organize events and forums on Northwest tourism development in association with attractive tourist markets like Hanoi, the Red River delta, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang. Provinces in the Northwestern region need to have preferential policies to create high-quality human resources, focus on developing vocational skills, raise awareness of community-based tourism and responsible tourism, allocate capital to implement transport development projects which motivate regional development to create spatial linkages among important tourist sites in the northern mountainous region.

Fourthly, it is necessary to invest in researching regional planning and planning tourist spots and routes of each province as well as the whole region to find the beauty and unique identity of each locality to build up its strengths.

In the Northwest region, there are 30 ethnic groups; when building community tourist sites, each province should choose an ethnic group with its own identity to build and advertise. These community-based tourism sites need to be uniformly planned, restrained, and avoid duplication of tourism products. In the immediate future, the Northwestern provinces need to research and build key tourist areas with specific nuances of each province such as Sa Pa (Lao Cai), Moc Chau Plateau (Son La), and Dong Van rocky plateau (Ha Giang), Ba Be lake (Bac Can)...etc. In each tourist area, it is necessary to promote separate tourism resources and specific nuances of each locality in order to build tourism products with specific characteristics.



(1) https://www.thiennhien.net/2014/05/07/du-lich-vung-tay-bac-day-manh-lien-ket-de-phat-trien.

(2) http://www.baovanhoa.vn/du-lich/artmid/ 416 / articleid / 1898 / co-t225c-ph225t-tourism-development-8-province-northwest-open-year -2018-focused-building-products-specific.

(3) http://www.tourdulichsapa.vn/103 news-travel-sapa / 1011_khoi-sac-du-bac-tu-bac-tu-mo-cart-lien-ket-phat-trien-du- lich.html.


(5) http://www.tourdulichsapa.vn/103_tin-du-lich-sapa/1011_khoi-sac-du-lich-tay-bac-tu-mo-hinh-lien-ket-phat-trien-du-lich .html.

Dr. Hoang Ngoc Hai

Academy of Politics Region I

Dr. Ho Thanh Thuy

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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