The plain classrooms of the Hue Tourism School come alive with color when the female students take their seats. They are dressed in shimmering red or aodai, the flowing tunic and wide-bottomed trousers that make up Viet Nam’s national costume.
Many of the young men and women are from the Central Region - one of Viet Nam’s poorest areas - and are taking advantage of the current tourism boom to improve their lives.
The students - more than 80% young women - are enrolled in either 1-year professional or 2-year college courses.
“Some 30% of our students are from poor households, including ethnic minorities. They come because of the strong development of tourism in central Viet Nam,” says Le Duc Trung, the school’s affable vice director. “They know tourism is an important means to escape poverty.”
The tourism boom is spurred in part by the improved East-West Economic Corridor, also known as Highway 9, which provides easier access to Viet Nam’s Central Region from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) and Thailand, as well as other parts of the country (see story, page 44).
The rehabilitation of the highway in the Lao PDR and Viet Nam - which the Asian Development Bank (ADB) helped cofinance under the GMS Economic Cooperation Program - is nearing completion.
Easing Access for Tourists
The Hue Tourism School helps meet
growing demand for hotel staff
The GMS countries - Cambodia, People’s Republic of China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam - are promoting the subregion as a single tourist destination. They have relaxed visa regimes, upgraded and improved airports, developed roads, initiated tourism training programs, and intensified joint marketing efforts.
Tourist arrivals in the six countries last year totaled nearly 16 million, and these are expected to soar to 20 million in 2006. By 2010, tourist arrivals are expected to increase to nearly 30 million.
At the ochre-colored An Dinh Palace, by the Perfume River that runs through Hue, Ngo Hoa, Vice Chairman of the People’s Committee of Thua Thien Hue Province, says improved road and rail links are contributing to a boom that has seen a rise in the number of visitors to the province by about 17–20% annually in recent years. This is well above the national average.
“Our tourism drive includes stepping up advertising as well as using the Internet more,” says Mr. Hoa. “The Central Region has a strong attraction for ecotourists as well as those interested in history and culture.”
Ancient History Attracts
|A cooking class
Major Central Region tourist attractions - which include the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the Imperial City of Hue, and the 17th century trading port of Hoi An - are expected to play a key role in that increase.
Hue’s hotels are also gearing up to handle increased business. At the historic Saigon Morin Hotel, general manager Tao Van Nghe sends his staff for training to cope with the demands of rising occupancy rates, with 60% of the guests coming from Europe.
Meanwhile, the Hue Tourism School is planning to expand its facilities to cater to the ever-increasing number of students. In 2006, the 2-year college course will be upgraded to a 3-year course. Despite strained resources, Mr. Trung says the school waives tuition fees for the poorest students.
Some students come from neighboring countries, says Mr. Trung. Currently, 10 students are from the Lao PDR. Most are male, but the contingent includes Manohay Sindonthan, who wants to work as a travel agent when she returns home to Champassak in Southern Lao PDR.
The Hue Tourism School receives financing from the European Union. Vincent Gibbon, an Irish senior technical advisor with the Luxembourg Development Agency, helps ensure training is up to international standards. “We’ve supported the training program and have developed the examination and certification system under the Viet Nam Tourism Certification Board,” he says. English language skills are the top priority.
By easing access to and within the subregion, improving training in the tourism industry, and promoting the GMS as a single tourist destination, new opportunities for both poor people and tourists will be developed. The poor are improving their lives through training and greater availability and diversity of employment, and the tourists can now enjoy more of the subregion’s geographical beauty and historical and cultural richness while availing of good service from an increasingly professional industry.