Chances and challenges for Ben Tre's tourism

Chances for Ben Tre's tourism development are appearing very clearly at the moment as grand projects of roads and bridges that may help overcome travelling problems are en train to be accelerated. The Ham Luong Bridge has been kicked start, and the well-known Rach Mieu Bridge is to be completed at the end of 2007. However, many challenges are also awaiting ahead for tourism in the Homeland of Coconut.

On a field trip to Ben Tre last year, Ms Vo Thi Thang, Chief of the Vietnamese Tourism Bureau, remarked that, Ben Tre's tourism at the moment had made a good leap from years before, to a great expanding scale. Ben Tre's tourism future was quite optimistic when the Rach Mieu Bridge would be completed and put into operation, she said.

Ben Tre currently has 29 tourist sites, 24 of which are located in Chau Thanh District, concentrating mostly in communes that sit along the bank of the Tien River. According to industry experts, Ben Tre's tourism is ranked at the top of the Mekong Delta region in terms of eco-tourism.

It is all the same everywhere in the Mekong Delta to go boating along twisty networks of rivers and canals, with eating outlets and entertainment at stops, or roving inside orchards and coconut gardens, angling and listening to don ca tai tu (amateur classic traditional music playing, which is a speciality of the region).

But not all provinces in the region can make the best of their trengths. Many tourists say, they feel more interesting going to Ben Tre for this province has its own traditional specialities to offer.

In Ben Tre, tourists have a chance to look at and enjoy special locally-made stuffs such as coconut-based fine handicraft items, pure honey, watching coconut candy making and tasting it right at the production workshop. Here tourists may be quite satisfied to go boating along the Rach Xep arroyo, or riding a one-horse carriage along a shadowy village path. This tour is currently most favoured by foreign tourists.

According to statistics, Ben Tre's tourism revenues in 2005 reached VND83 billion (US$519,000), up sharply from VND45.5 billion (US$284,000) of 2002. In 2005, there were nearly 151,000 international tourists coming to Ben Tre, up from 110,000 in 2002.

"Ben Tre is trying to develop tourism in association with poverty alleviation. This approach is relevant to the province's current policy to encourage the private sector including householders to join the tourism industry with the State helping build infrastructural features", says Mr Tran Duy Phuong, Deputy Director of Ben Tre's Service of Commerce and Tourism.

"Ben Tre's tourism is following the way to serve at tourists' needs, not to construct many structures and then let unused", he says.

Mr Phuong also discloses that, in February, 2006, the province was visited by 20 travel firms from many parts of the country. They were all impressed by the way Ben Tre did tourism, and have signed cooperative contracts for future tour operations in Ben Tre.

Like other provinces in the Mekong Delta, Ben Tre is also faced with infrastructural difficulties. The promises of convenient and time-saving travelling thanks to the construction of the Rach Mieu and Ham Luong bridges are not enough to overcome numerous obstacles that have so far hindered visitors to travel by road to sites in remote districts. There are indeed quite a lot of tourists who want to make tours to visit orchards and famous ornamental flower farms in Cho Lach District; to visit the memorial house of Truong Vinh Ky, one of the most famous scholars in the 19 century; or to visit the once renounced Church of Cai Mon. But at the moment few tourists are going on this tour. National Highways 60 and 57, the main roads leading to these tourist sites, are still the unlikely route due to the lack of usable bridges on the roads as well as between the river banks crossing to Cho Lach. At the moment, it is still unsafe for big 45-seat buses to cross these bridges, and tourists always have to get out of the buse and walk pass the bridges before they continue the journey. Almost all the districts have no good enough hotel or guesthouse rooms for a group of tourists to stay over the night there. In the meantime, foreign tourists in particular often love entertainment activities, and they require that these activities should be completely safe and that they should be protected from unwanted harassments and inconvenience. Those inconveniences and troubles have so far discouraged most tourists to go on tours to districts though these tours are quite attractive to them.

Many more tourists would come to Ben Tre in the near future is the foreseeable possibility. Of course, visiting and entertainment services to offer tourists won't be confined to the same old things such as the current boating tours in Chau Thanh District.

"In efforts to diversify local tourist services, Ben Tre has planned various projects for tourism development," says Mr Do Minh Triet, Chief of Ben Tre's Tourist Managing Office.

"This year, 2006, the province is calling for investments into 5 projects to develop tourist resorts such as the Tourist Resort of Con Phung (Chau Thanh District), the Eco-tourist Resort of Vam Ho Bird Colony (Ba Tri), the Eco-tourist and Entertainment Complex of My Thanh An (Ben Tre Township), the Eco-tourist Resort of Con Oc (Giong Trom), and the Eco-tourist Resort of Con Noi (Mo Cay). The total investment capital required for all these projects are estimated to be up to dozens of millions of US dollars. In addition, the province also has invested more than VND4 billion to renovate restaurants and construct new international-standard hotels for better tourist catering."

Ben Tre tourism is believed to strongly develop if the province can make the best of its existing potentials.

Translated by Truong Hung

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