For years now, Ho Chi Minh City authorities have been convinced that river tourism is an important, viable and lucrative marketing product to enhance and enrich the City’s hospitality industry, particularly in the current development period from 2011-2015.
In addition to promoting river tourism and existing tourism products on offer, HCMC plans to also add and promote new products and programs that will lure tourists and highlight the City's tourist spots.
The City is working on promoting shopping and bringing attention to cultural and historical tourism.
In a bid to develop the tourism sector as a key economy in the country, HCMC is making efforts to create new products other than tours on the beaten path for tourists--one of them being river tourism.
Despite much effort and determination, city authorities have not provided full support to this tourism sector.
Tourism experts say that visitors coming from Europe, America and North Africa are very much interested in river cruises, a potential currently being tapped by many countries in the world with some even cooperating with neighboring nations to increase the market.
There has been a huge leap in the number of tourists for such tours despite their high cost per trip.
Seeing this great potential, the tourism sector has defined it as an important and very saleable product to boost the hospitality industry in HCMC. However, statistics from the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism show that river trips have only just developed in the South, which is interlaced with a canal system, particularly Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta.
The canal network in HCMC connects with the salt marshes in Can Gio District and in the last ten years has been successfully marketed.
Nguyen Viet Anh, from the department of Culture, Sports and Tourism in HCMC, said that in the recent past some travel agencies have expanded tourism products and exploited well many new routes.
Phan Xuan Anh, director of Viet Excursions Travel Company, says that river tours are very popular with holidaymakers and hence need more support from authorities. The company welcomes more than 1,000 international tourists annually for the river tour from Ho Chi Minh City along Thi Vai River and to the salt marshes in Can Gio District. Holidaymakers from the US and Germany are particularly very fond of these trips.
Despite a certain amount of success in marketing new tourism ideas, leading tour operator Saigontourist pointed to a lack of wharves for tourist boats, the boredom of running the same route on a very small scale, and lack of a mid way rest-stop along the cruise for tourist convenience.
Lack of wharves for tourist boats is one of most serious need as currently the wharves are being used only for loading commodities. Moreover, tour operators complained that lack of wharves hinders tourist services.
Currently, the City has three wharves on Bach Dang in District 1, Ton That Thuyet in District 4 and Hiep An in District 8. Only Bach Dang can be used as a tourist wharf yet it lacks modern conveniences to meet tourists’ demands while others are not tourist wharves as they are run down and boats cannot anchor there.
With such existing inconveniences, tour operators can hardly expand more tours. Some enterprises said they are willing to buy boats for river tourism but lack of wharves deters them.
An Son Lam, Director of Dong Duong Sailing Company in HCMC, said that in September his company started the first river tour from Bach Dang Wharf in District 1 to Long Hoa Pagoda in District 8.
However, the company just operates three boats and one tour a week every Sunday because the destination, Long Hoa Pagoda, has just one temporary bridge leading to the pagoda. Lam said the company wants to take tourists to other famous destinations such as Binh Dong Communal House in District 8 or Binh Tay Market in District 6, but it needs wharves before it can start such trips.
Hence tour operators are desperate for City authorities to at least build wharves, so that more river tourism can be developed.