Wednesday, June 25, 2008

400,000 Americans visit Vietnam in 2007

Lively links between Vietnam and the US
07:04' 24/06/2008 (GMT+7)

US visitors in HCM City.

Busy East-West trips

Last year more than 400,000 Americans visited Vietnam, a rise of nearly 6 percent from 2006 and doubling the number in 2000. But the arrivals represent less than 10 percent of the total foreign visitors to Vietnam in 2007 and also a fraction when compared with about 60 million American tourists going on overseas trips each year.

"As Americans continue to travel, the United States, with its development capacity and potential, will remain a significant source of investment capacity, which Vietnam needs to tap into," said Hoang Tuan Anh, former Head of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism and now Minister of Culture and Communications.

But the economic slowdown in the United States so far this year has prompted many to tighten their pocket and keep more at home. Figures published by the General Statistics Office showed 133,000 Americans came to Vietnam in the first quarter of 2008, 7.9 percent higher than the same period last year but which is slowing from a growth of 12 percent in the first quarter of 2007 from a year earlier period.

Tourism industry officials believe the decline in U.S. tourist arrivals would be short-lived. They say a long coast line, friendly people and an economic and political stability in Vietnam remain stimulus to attract foreign tourists.

In tour business, the BTA allowed U.S. companies to establish joint ventures with Vietnamese partners with no limitation on the foreign ownership and do business with hotels and travel agents.

Vietnam's tourism has projected to target the United States as a major supplier of tourists under its 2001-2010 plan but apart from obstacles rising from political relations and the geographical distance, the country's tourism sector faces shortages of experience and budget to fund promotional activities in the U.S. market.

Foreign investment in hotels, resorts and leisure projects are still modest, or around 10 percent of the total foreign investment in Vietnam worth $104 billion.

Several major projects have been licensed in the first quarter of 2008, especially in HCMC, Da Nang, Quang Nam Province, Hue and in the central provinces of Khanh Hoa and Binh Thuan.

Most of these locations have historical attraction as they are all more or less related to sites of the past conflict which is an attraction since a large number of U.S. tourists coming to Vietnam are veterans, their relatives or simply those who are interested in learning about the war.

In January 2008 California-based Good Choice received an investment licence to invest $1.3 billion in a Disneyland-style theme park in the southern coastal town of Vung Tau.

The affiliate of leading U.S. real estate and investment firm Platinum Dragon Empire Incorporated (PDE) would build a 80-storey tower and a "Wonders of the World" site in the complex.

Other U.S. investors also eyed on Vietnam's developing tourism industry, such as Winvest Investment LLC which is working on a $300 million, hotel and casino complex in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province.

In regard to outbound tours, several domestic tourist companies have started offering trips to the United States.

Saigontourist Holding Company, a major tour operator established since 1975 as the first company dealing with tourism in Ho Chi Minh City, has been dealing with travel agencies of 36 countries worldwide including the United States.

Similarly Vietravel and Hoan My Tour Co also run tours to New York, Washington DC, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Vietnam Airlines, the national flag carrier, said it has projected to open its direct air service between Vietnam and the United States in late 2008.

It has already been operating code-share flights with China Airlines and American Airlines to take passengers to 12 cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Washington.

Cultural platform

In September, 2003 Raymond F. Burghardt, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, said the success in the two countries' relation should not only be limited in commercial progress.

In the field of culture exchange, music performance, fine arts, literature and exhibitions have all been used to help convey ideas and cultural values.

The United States has demonstrated its respect for Vietnam's culture by financing restoration at several pagodas such as the Dau Pagoda in Bac Ninh Province and the preservation of music of the Tay people in the northeastern region.

In late May 2008, the Museum of Vietnamese History in Ho Chi Minh City put on display 18 restored Buddha statues originally sculpted by Vietnamese artists in the 17th and 19th centuries.

The project involving Vietnamese craft-men repainting the statue and applied a gild on them received more than $27,000 from the U.S. Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation which helps countries worldwide preserve disappearing cultural traditions.

The fund has also extended grants to restore artifacts and other items from the Cham exhibits at the Cham Museum in the central city of Da Nang.

U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak said the grants have been in place since Buddhism plays an important role in Vietnamese life and the joint effort represents good will between the two countries.

The State Department has also funded America singers and jazz groups who have held master classes and given performances throughout Vietnam. Other U.S. fundings have also gone to an exchange of dancers and art managers organised by the dance theatre workshop of New York.

The American Museum of Natural History and Vietnam's Museum of Ethnology opened in March 2003 the exhibition "Vietnam: A Journey of Body, Mind, and Spirit" in New York and the footage of the exhibition was aired on Vietnam Television.

Besides, the U.S. Government supports the Asia Foundation in its work stocking the libraries of Vietnam with useful works. They organised U.S. visit for American Studies professors from Vietnam and conferences on American Studies in Vietnam.

In May 2007 a U.S. Film Week was held in Hanoi and HCMC.

In June 2007 Vietnam sent a delegation of 39 folk artists and artisans to participate in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in the United States.

In recent months American singers toured Vietnam and gave public performances in many cities across the country.

Sister cities

In September 1950 U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower initiated the sister city programme as he proposed a people-to-people, citizen diplomacy initiative during a White House Summit on Citizen Diplomacy.

The president's hope was that personal relationships, fostered through sister city, county, and state affiliations, would lessen the chance of future world conflicts.

Since then Sister Cities International the international membership association headquartered in Washington, DC represents over 2,500 communities in 126 countries around the world.

Five pairs have been established between Vietnamese and U.S. cities so far, namely Hai Phong - Seattle, Ho Chi Minh City - San Francisco, Hue - New Haven, Da Nang - Oakland and Vung Tau - Newport Beach.

In 1994 New Heaven became the first U.S. city to enter the Sister City partnership with Vietnam's central city of Hue. The Sister City Project members went to Vietnam to help deliver medical supplies and computers to institutions with which the project has ties, among the clinics and schools.

Seattle said its work with Hai Phong focused on four areas: improving access to public health services, developing a plan to attract tourism, building a web site, and helping with urban planning.

On December 10, 2004 the first United Airlines flight left San Francisco and landed in Ho Chi Minh City for the first time since the war ended, opening opportunities for increased trade, investment and tourism between the two sister cities as well as the two nations.

In May 2005 a delegation from the Bay Area visited Hanoi to celebrate the "10th Anniversary" of the normalisation of relations between the United States and Vietnam.

The group was formed by members of the San Francisco - HCMC Sister City Committee and others who joined to celebrate "San Francisco Week" in Ho Chi Minh City.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said that the "activities of the visit are focused on recognizing the important role the Sister City relationship has played in improving the relations between the countries over the past ten years and also strengthening and deepening the friendship between our two great cities."

(Source: VN-US Society & Vietnam-US Magazine)

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