This week, Breaking Travel News reported on the growth of tourism in emerging markets, citing a 6-8% increase over the past ten years — a twofold upturn over tourist powerhouses like Europe.
China is fueling much of this tourism boom — Chinese tourists spent $30 billion abroad last year. And where are they going? Vietnam.
An article on tourism in developing economies in The Economist last month put the number of Chinese visitors in Vietnam at 507,000 for 2007. The Vietnamese tourist industry also benefited from 442,000 South Korean visitors and 376,000 tourists from the United States.
Another Economist article published in April focuses on growth in Vietnam’s tourist industry and concerns about sustainable tourism. Again, Vietnam’s move to number four on the World Travel and Tourism Council‘s table of fastest-growing destinations is chalked up to the rising spending power of nearby countries. However, Vietnam’s infrastructure is cited as a handicap, the reason for its rank of 96 out of 130 countries on the World Economic Forum‘s competitiveness forum.
But while infrastructure lags behind, retail growth is brandishing the country’s luxury appeal. AT Kearney ranked Vietnam number one on its list of most attractive markets for retail investment, as reported by Foreign Direct Investment. Vietnam outstripped former leaders India, China and Russia thanks to its 8% GDP growth and the relative lack of competition compared with these countries.
There’s been lots of nay-saying floating around since ground broke on the long-anticipated Ho Chi Minh City metro system this past February. But cynics can’t deny the initial foreign investment is there. Three lines have international support, and two Japanese companies and one French firm are vying for rights to outfit the system with the latest railway technology.
The Japan Bank for International Co-operation will pump $905 million into the already-started first line in the six-line system, which will run from Ben Thanh Market to Suoi Tien Park in Thu Duc District. This flagship line will run underground between three stations in District 1 before emerging to connect the next 11 stations. Completion is set for 2014 to the tune of $2 billion total.
On the same day construction began on Line 1, the German government pledged $86 million to the estimated $1.2 billion price tag on Line 2, which will connect Districts 2 and 12. China Shanghai Corporation for Foreign Economic and Technological Cooperation has stepped in to conduct the feasibility study on a third line following what the Vietnamese government calls inadequate progress on the part of a Russian development consortium.
Over the first six years, the HCMC Urban Railway Authority expects 162,000 commuters to utilize the system, inclusive of six subway and three monorail and/or lightrail lines. The next decade-long phase of development between 2020 and 2030 aims to accommodate 635,000 passengers. 800,000 are anticipated to be riding the rails by 2040.
Whether or not the metro will coax the Vietnamese away from their motorbikes is yet to be seen, but the potential environmental benefits to this smog-choked city are encouraging.
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Viet Nam News recently reported on Hanoi’s experimentation with traffic congestion problems. With more cars than ever on the road, Vietnam’s streets, accustomed to more fluid motorbike traffic, are in a state of shock. Hanoi’s answer? Designate lanes for car and motorbike use.
Cars that trespass across lanes will pay a VND 400,000 ($25) fine, while deviant motorbike drivers will suffer a less severe VND 80 – 100,000 fine ($5-6). Jay walkers will also be penalized to the tune of VND 20 – 40,000 ($1.20-2.50).
This sounds easy enough, but the motorbike culture in Vietnam is a rootless, unwritten negotiation between motorists based on split decisions and tacit understandings. Traffic is a fluid, amorphous phenomenon. The problem is that the motorbike culture, inculcated because few Vietnamese could afford a car throughout decades of privation, didn’t anticipate the economic booms in Hanoi and Saigon. The culture simply can’t accommodate these vehicular status symbols.
But proof of the culture’s entrenchment is the fact that Hanoi has only implemented the measures on a single 1.635 km-long road. The plan is to roll out the policy on additional streets later in the year. In Saigon, the roads in District 7 are designated for car and motorbike usage, but the district’s rational planning is the result of ambitious land reclamation and redevelopment. Indeed District 7’s roads look absolutely Martian relative to the cramped motorways across the rest of the city.
Another sign that traffic departments have their work cut out for them: a few years ago, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency came to Hanoi to implement the same plan, but the joint international venture failed.
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