Poor transport facilities and a lack of diverse tourism products mean the Mekong Delta struggles to keep visitors for more than a day.
Nguyen Huu Tho, Chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, said the region’s tourism remains undeveloped. The delta, which includes Can Tho City and 12 provinces, attracted 3.4 million foreign visitors in 2018, a modest figure compared to the potential. Less than half stayed overnight, according to the association.
Many travel agencies only use the region as an adjunct to their itinerary for international visitors, which centers on Ho Chi Minh City.
Nguyen Quoc Ky, General Director of Viettravel, a leading travel company, said the delta does not have a developed port while its four airports at Can Tho, Rach Gia, Ca Mau, and Phu Quoc have yet to become transport hubs for the region.
International visitors usually fly into HCMC and travel to the delta by road, but the highway network is not good enough to help tourism flourish, Ky said at the recent Mekong Delta Tourism Development Forum held in Can Tho.
Vo Anh Tai, Deputy General Director of another travel giant Saigontourist, said it currently takes visitors up to an average of 70-90 minutes to travel 50 km in the delta.
Tai cited the Hanoi – Lao Cai Expressway in northern Vietnam as a typical example of how good transport infrastructure can strongly drive tourism growth. Tours to the mountainous resort town of Sa Pa in Lao Cai Province have dramatically increased thanks to the expressway, Vietnam’s longest which openned to traffic in 2014, shortening the Hanoi-Lao Cai travel time by half.
Vu The Binh, Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association, said the delta’s tourism products are monotonous due to a lack of investment.
The attractiveness of many of its traditional offerings like floating markets, orchard visits and river tourism is waning, and local authorities have paid little attention to creating more tourism products, which is mostly being done by enterprises, he said.
“But 95 percent of tourism businesses in the delta are small, medium or even micro sized, and lack the resources to invest in new tourism products. So they only use old ones and end up duplicating each other.”
Vo Xuan Thu, Regional Director of Thien Minh Group, a leader of Vietnam’s travel and hospitality industry, said it is difficult for Mekong Delta localities to attract customers because they have not invested in destination marketing.
In fact, the delta is not in the tour programs of many international travel agencies, and is only offered as an optional tour, he said.
“The provinces need to invest in promoting the delta as a destination with their own distinctive features.
“While it is not too far from HCMC, if the transport infrastructure is improved, combined with good promotion, we can take advantage of the large number of international visitors coming to Ho Chi Minh City,” he added.
Last year three out of the 13 world’s best destinations listed for year-end travel by U.S. publication Business Insider were in the Mekong Delta.
CNN in September this year said exploring the world’s largest cave, eating pho noodle soup in Hanoi and cruising down the Mekong Delta are among the 13 most memorable experiences in Vietnam.