Vietnam hoping to cash in on its painful past : LUSENET : Vietnamese American Society : One Thread

Vietnam hoping to cash in on its painful past

HANOI - A painful pilgrimage for some, a history lesson for others. Vietnam's tourism authority and foreign travel agents are seeking to cash in on the country's historic sights to attract the curious and the war veterans. "We are proud of our fight for independence. Vietnam today is known throughout the world for its exploits," said Duong Xuan Hoi, an official from the ministry of tourism. "Helping tourists visit the battlefields is one of our priorities. We do build tourist packages based around this theme."

The Cu Chi tunnels, dug by Viet Cong resistance fighters outside of the former South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that split the country in half, and the white sands of Danang where GIs once enjoyed rest and recreation leave are already popular fixtures on the tourist trail. "The Cu Chi tunnels are a must see," said Eric Merlin, one of the co-founders of the Vietnam-based Exotissimo travel agency. "They are a demonstration of the courage and determination of the Vietnamese people. And people want to understand a little about these people who beat the Americans."

For Vietnam's younger generations, the war that ended in 1975 remains firmly in the past and is of little interest -- more than half of the communist nation's 81 million people are under the age of 20 -- but it is a selling point for tourists. "The war is one of the essential parts of a trip to Vietnam, like the gondoliers of Venice or cowboy hats in shopping malls in the United States," said Merlin. "It may no longer reflect reality here, but the image remains."

The food, the beaches, rice fields and temples continue to be the primary selling images used by tour operators to pitch Vietnam to foreign tourists. But some industry experts believe in the long term, the country's historical sites will become as popular as Europe's World War II battlegrounds. "When I visited France, of course I went to the beaches in Normandy. I am sure in Vietnam we will get to that stage too," said one expert. For the moment the most promising market is in the United States, where an increasing number of veterans are returning to Vietnam.

"Now Vietnam appears to be open and relaxed enough to enable the veterans to come back. Ten years ago, they certainly did not feel that comfortable," said Graham Heal, president of the US-based travel portal, The prominence given to the Vietnam War during the race for the presidency in the United States illustrates the profound impact Washington's bloody intervention in Indochina continues to have on the country. From a tourism standpoint, this represents a potentially lucrative market for Vietnam: more than three million American soldiers fought in Southeast Asia, and the majority are still alive.

"Vietnam still has a great significance in the history and psyche of the American people," said Heal. Although the numbers of veterans returning to Vietnam are still limited -- no official figures are available -- he hopes that their business will generate four million dollars per year in revenue for his company from 2006 through personalised tours revisiting their old battlegrounds or those where a friend or relative fell. "The most important thing for me is to understand which branch of service they served in and which area they are interested in. We are organizing tailor-made tours," said Heal. Those veterans who do make the trip are unlikely to face hostility from the Vietnamese. Displays of hatred or rancour towards American tourists are rare. The window of opportunity for American war vets to return, many of whom are now in their 60s, is slowly closing, but tourism official Hoi does not believe the market will dry up.

"We already prepare the marketing for the younger generations of tourists, the children of soldiers who will come to visit the battlefield where their fathers or grandfathers fought," he said.

Agence France Presse - September 05, 2004.


-- Việt_Nam_Quê_Hương_Ta (Viet_Nam@Quê-Hương.govt), September 07, 2004

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