The northern highlands province of Ha Giang has recently emerged as a popular tourist destination, but its inadequate infrastructure and poor services remain major challenges.
In the first nine months of this year Ha Giang received 2.1 million visitors, including 220,000 foreigners, and tourism earnings topped VND5 trillion (US$205.6 million). Last year they were worth VND4.5 trillion after tripling from 2018.
The border province, renowned for its dangerous mountain passes and twisting roads, is touted as a must-visit destination by western backpackers who rent motorbikes to conquer the 350-kilometer Ha Giang Loop.
|Frenchman Francais sits on the back of a motorbike as he and his friend conquer Ma Pi Leng mountain pass in Ha Giang, March 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Phuong
Videos of Ha Giang have been widely shared on TikTok and other social media channels, boosting its popularity.
Hannes and Laura, a German couple who spent three days in Ha Giang in September, said their actual experience far surpassed what they saw online.
The beautiful weather, majestic valleys and mountains and the peaceful lifestyle of the ethnic minority people left the couple with an abiding impression of the place.
But Hoang Xuan Don, director of the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark, said Ha Giang has many problems such as under-invested tourism infrastructure and lack of services for visitors.
Most come just for sightseeing and spend small amounts of money on buying snacks and souvenirs, he said.
Ha Giang is a poor province without the resources needed to invest in facilities and infrastructure or develop tourism, he said.
Lai Quoc Tinh, chairman of the Ha Giang Province Tourism Association, said the visitors now are mainly backpackers, who rent motorbikes to travel on their own and stay at homestays along the Ha Giang Loop and not in high-end resorts.
The latter pay 8% value added tax while most homestays and motorbike rental shops pay a fixed tax at VND1-2 million a month, with some being exempt even from that as Ha Giang seeks to encourage tourism, he said.
The province only has three to four tourist attractions that charge visitor fees such as Lung Cu flagpole and Lung Khuy Cave, he said.
He was making the point that the earnings from tourism were too little to plow back into infrastructure.
The province has decided to impose a fee on visitors staying overnight on the Dong Van karst plateau from next year.
Visitors to the UNESCO global geopark spread over the four districts of Dong Van, Yen Minh, Meo Vac, and Quan Ba will pay VND30,000 (US$1.22) in the case of adults and VND15,000 for children.
The province expects to receive 1.8 million visitors and collect around VND48 billion from them next year, money that will be used to improve infrastructure and fund conservation efforts.
Lack of human resources in the tourism industry is another problem Ha Giang faces.
For example, with a group of 15 foreign tourists participating in a motorbike tour, only one guide knew English to communicate with the whole group.
“Drivers don’t just have to know how to drive, they also have to know how to communicate in English to introduce Ha Giang to tourists,” Don said.
|A tour guide (L) poses with a Dutch tourist in Quan Ba District, Ha Giang Province. Photo courtesy of BiBi Ha Giang Tour
Tinh said Ha Giang would continue to run tourism campaigns to attract more high-spending tourists who want in-depth experiences.
Visitors must spend around a week if they want to truly understand the ethnic minority culture of Ha Giang, he said.
There are no official figures on average spending by tourists, but Tinh said backpackers spend around VND1 million a day on food, accommodation and motorbike rent and have an average itinerary of two or three days.
While he would like to see high-spending visitors, he said Ha Giang prioritizes preservation of its local culture and identity, and not allow five-star hotels and resorts en masse.
Source: VN Express