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Ideology puts a shadow on ATF in Hanoi, oops…Ha Noi!

Stéphane Hanot, eTN Staff Writer  Jan 15, 2009

HANOI, Vietnam (eTN) - It is certainly part of Vietnam folklore to enjoy the visit of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum or to buy red tee shirts and flags. Behind such friendly communist icons, the country remains engulfed in a hardliner ideology as recently experienced at the ASEAN Travel Forum (ATF).

Hosting the ATF in Hanoi could have been the perfect opportunity for Vietnam to show how much the country changed and how ready it is to embrace tourism. Unfortunately, strict communist ideology threw a shadow on what could have been a great tourism event. The trouble began when many travel media’s application to cover the show were officially denied by Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

It then continued with the ATF daily being censored. One of the journalist on the daily told that the company was forced to redo the first issue because of the supposedly wrong spelling of “Viet Nam” and “Ha Noi” –they were spelt in normal English “Vietnam” and “Hanoi.” The second confirmed ATF daily had its printing license denied by the government. Then, Thailand, hosting a special Pattaya night, saw its request to bring dancers from Pattaya’s famed transexual cabaret show called “Tiffany” was also denied.

At the travel mart, halls were closely watched by security staff and even by the army. “Security” seemed to have been indeed a burning issue for the government.

Asked why Vietnam still does not provide visa on arrivals to most of its incoming markets, with exceptions such as Finland(!), Sport and Tourism Deputy Minister Tran Chien Thing embarked into a long explanation about the need of safety and security for the country. With this implied message from the government: tourists are obviously still considered as potential threat.

Ideology could maybe again explain why no prestigious event during the ATF took place in Hanoi’s stunning historical city centre. With architectural jewels such as the Hanoi Opera House or the Fine Arts Museum, it probably would have looked too “colonial” for the government. Instead, the opening ceremony took place in the enormous Convention Center, which coincidentally serves as a venue for the Congress of the Communist Party.

Such an ideological vision from the government in tourism is only prejudicial to the country. It just seems to sabotage Vietnam National Tourism Administration’s efforts to promote the country. And it does not pay justice to Vietnamese people, especially the younger generation who are generally friendly and very willing to meet foreigners.

“Lots of hardliners who experienced Vietnam war are still in power. And they have difficulties to cope with today’s world,” said one buyer.

With Vietnam tourism confronted a downturn in tourism, tourist arrivals have tumbled by over 10 percent since August, it is more urgent than ever for the Vietnamese government to open at least its gates, if not its heart.

Ideology puts a shadow on ATF in Hanoi, oops…Ha Noi!
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