Regional linkage to develop tourism in association with conservation and promotion of cultural, historical and revolutionary values among the provinces in the Viet Bac War Zone
Communist Review - The Viet Bac War Zone is home to over 1, 000 historical, cultural and scenic sites along with revolutionary relics associated with landmarks which are closely linked to the glorious victory of Viet Nam during the resistance war against the French colonialism. These resources are becoming a huge asset for both tourism development and conservation efforts as well as promotion of the traditional cultural values of ethnic groups in the region.
The tourism appeal of the Viet Bac War Zone
The Viet Bac War Zone comprises six provinces: Cao Bang, Bac Kan, Lang Son, Thai Nguyen, Ha Giang and Tuyen Quang with its natural area of 37, 204, 39 km2 and the population of 4,576,141 people (in 2020). Known as the Capital of Resistance, the region serves as a place with a particularly crucial strategic position with regard to economics, politics, military and society - a land of loyalty, sentimental attachments with substantial contributions in the “pre-insurrection” period and during the 9-year resistance war against the French colonialists (between 1945 and 1954)
The Viet Bac War Zone is entirely situated in the Northern Midlands and Mountains - one of the seven national tourism regions specified in the Viet Nam Tourism Development Strategy by 2030 which was approved by the Prime Minister in Decision Nº 2473/QD-TTg, dated December 30, 2011. Located in the heart of the Northern Midlands and Mountains - adjacent to Hanoi capital city, this region is endowed with an exceptionally favorable geographical position, along with relatively convenient transportation infrastructure system and naturally and culturally diverse tourism potentials.
In terms of natural tourism resources, most of the Viet Bac War Zone is surrounded by mountains and plateaux. Thanks to high mountains combined with climatic characteristics, hydrological systems of rivers, streams, lakes and vegetation, etc., the region has a reputation for majestic and beautiful landscapes with high mountain peaks, gaping abyss and stunning scenery proving distinctive tourist attractions such as Mau Son Mountain, Khau Sao Steppe (in Lang Son); Dong Van, Ma Pi Leng, Tien Waterfall, Gio Pass (in Ha Giang), particularly Dong Van Karst Plateau and Non Nuoc Cao Bang Geopark was recognized as global geopark by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
Considerably influenced by mountainous topography, the climate of the Viet Bac War Zone is characterized by a humid tropical monsoon with freezing-cold winters, which is suitable for resort tourism. The region boasts numerous beautiful and spacious caves such as Pac Bo and Nguom Ngao Caves (in Cao Bang), a dense network of rivers and streams with magnificent scenery such as Ky Cung River, Thuong River (in Lang Son) and Nho Que River (in Ha Giang). There are huge lakes such as Nui Coc (in Thai Nguyen), Na Hang (in Tuyen Quang), Ba Be (in Bac Kan) as well as mineral and hot springs which can be used for drinking, healing the wounds and developing resort tourism combined with health rehabilitation.
The Viet Bac War Zone is endowed with the diverse and abundant ecosystems largely concentrated in national parks, nature reserves and biodiversity areas, which has immense significance regarding science, economics, environmental education and particularly for the exploitation and development of eco-tourism products such as Ba Be and Phia Oac-Phia Den National Parks (in Bac Kan and Cao Bang); Huu Lien, Kim Hy, Than Sa-Phuong Hoang Nature Reserves (in Lang Son, Bac Kan and Thai Nguyen respectively); species and habitat reserves such as Trung Khanh Cao-vit Gibbon Conservation Area (in Cao Bang).
In relation to the cultural tourism resources, the region has a reputation for a variety of cultural, historical, revolutionary, artistic, architectural archaeological relics. There are currently around 40,000 relics nationwide, including 2,509 ranked ones; in 6 provinces of the Viet Bac War Zone alone, there are 98 ranked relics, accounting for 3,9% of the whole country, of which there are a multitude of cultural, historical and revolutionary ones with special significance and high value for tourism development such as Pac Bo (in Cao Bang), Tan Trao, Kim Binh (in Tuyen Quang), ATK Dinh Hoa (in Thai Nguyen).
The architectural, artistic and archaeological monuments are varied; for instance, “King Meo” Mansion, Dong Van Ancient Town, Lung Cu Flag Tower (in Ha Giang), Chi Lang Pass, the archaeological sites of Tham Khuyen - Tham Hai - Keo Leng (in Lang Son) and the Mac Dynasty Citadel (in Tuyen Quang).
The intangible cultural values are far more copious, including those of ethnic minorities such as traditional lifestyles, festivals, folk music and dances and handicraft villages; especially The Practices of Then by Tay and Nung Peoples were inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on December 13, 2019. The Viet Bac War Zone is the abode of 46 ethnic minorities, of which each people has its unique traditional festivals such as the Long Tong Festival of the Tay and Nung peoples and the important festivals of Dao people.
With the aforementioned advantages, numerous types of tourism have been boosted in the region, particularly revolutionary tourism referring to visiting and learning about revolutionary relics, educating Vietnamese generations about revolutionary traditions and moral lessons of “remembering your roots”. Visitors can return to the historical battlefields at the monuments ranging from ATK Tan Trao (in Tuyen Quang) to ATK Dinh Hoa (in Thai Nguyen) and Cho Don (in Bac Kan) or the Pac Bo Historical Complex (in Cao Bang), the Uncle Ho historical sites with the 1950 Border Campaign, Dong Khe Victory Historical Site, Tran Hung Dao Forest Relic (in Cao Bang) and Bac Son Revolutionary Base (in Lang Son). In addition, the source tourism products can be exploited or combined with ecological tourism ones relevant to visiting natural landscapes, exploring the roads and enjoying majestic natural scenery of high mountains as well as with community and spiritual tourism products, etc. in order to diversify tourism products to the best advantage of each locality.
Aware of the pivotal role of tourism as a driving force for economic development, the regional localities with their potential advantages at various levels have recently made tremendous efforts to create favorable conditions for tourism development. Tourism is, therefore, identified as a key sector aimed at becoming a spearhead and breakthrough of the local socio-economic development. The State has allocated significant funds to invest tourism infrastructure in the regional provinces. The transportation network connecting inter-regional tourist routes has been upgraded, repaired and newly constructed such as National Highway 3 from Thai Nguyen to Bac Kan, Thai Nguyen to Cho Moi, National Highway 4 from Cao Bang to Lang Son and National Highway 279 from Lang Son to Cao Bang, Bac Kan, Tuyen Quang, and Ha Giang. The development of tourism human resources, the creation of tourism products and the promotion of tourism have been all attached great importance to. Provinces and cities have begun to collaborate on developing tourism products and promoting activities to enhance the image of “the Viet Bac War Zone” as an attractive destination for visitors. Many tourism products are based on the cultural and historical values and become ubiquitous in the provinces such as Thanh Tuyen Festival (in Tuyen Quang), Khau Vai Love Market, Buckwheat Flower Festival (in Ha Giang), attracting a large number of domestic and international visitors.
Currently, the whole region covers approximately 1,300 accommodation establishments with a multitude of 3-to-4 star standardized hotels, hundreds of dining facilities and restaurants and around 70 travel companies with over 800 tourist transportation vehicles (1). In the past five years (between 2015 and 2020), the average growth rate of tourist arrivals has been nearly 4,5% per year and the annually average growth rate has reached 11%. Some provinces has maintained their steady growth rates such as Ha Giang, Lang Son and more recently, Cao Bang. Many product-exploiting policies have been carried out such as planning tourist attractions and ethnic cultural villages, organizing traditional and modern festivals and capitalizing on the natural landscapes where ethnic minorities reside. The number of visitors to the provinces in the Viet Bac War Zone was as follows: 605, 654 domestic tourists (in Cao Bang), 12, 011 international travelers (in Bac Kan), 195, 366 inland holidaymakers and 3, 413 foreign vacationers (in Ha Giang), 1, 430, 969 interior trippers and 70, 319 exterior sightseers (in Tuyen Quang), 1,740, 330 national visitors and 3,670 globetrotters (2).
Like other regions across the country, however, the Viet Bac War Zone remains short of tourism human resources and professionalism. The linkage between regional localities proves to be tenuous and ineffective resulting in a low competitive edge and not bringing into full play the resource advantages for tourism development. Many localities offer excellent tourism resource potential but have not been proportionately invested. Accordingly, their potentiality and strengths have not been fully realized. There has been a shortage of strong connectivity and linkage between the localities within and outside the region for tourism development.
In the current development trend, particularly when Viet Nam being a member of many international organizations, the issue of “linkage, cooperation and integration” is of special significance for the development of the country as a whole, each region and each locality. Linkage has become an urgent requirement for competitiveness enhancement of participating components. Connection in tourism development is broadly viewed, from inter-regional and inter-national geographical angles to intra-regional and intra-national ones; from the inner tourism industry to cross-industry ones; and deep linkages between participating parties in tourism activities.
In order to achieve great efficiency in tourism development in the Viet Bac War Zone, the linkage, cooperation and task allocation between the regional provinces are of paramount importance. This aims to maximize the comparative advantages of each locality with regard to tourism development resources and potentials, while supplementing and overcoming the limitations during the development process. The association and cooperation will enrich and diversify tourism products, making them unique with high-quality in the entire region; thereby increasing the competitiveness and advantages in the regional tourism development.
At the present time, the tourism programs based on cultural and historical values primarily include types of sightseeing, ideological education and short-term reward and recognition. Cultural and historical heritages fail to attract tourists; tourism activities are not highly professional; tourism products remain poor and the tourism revenue accounts for a low proportion of each province’s economy. The question is how, as a result, to effectively exploit cultural and historical values, creating a unique identity for each locality’s brand tourism products as well as avoiding their duplication and monotony.
This issue results from the low attractiveness of the tourist destinations and the research on heritage values to hold appeal to visitors having been recently paid attention to. The additional construction of architectural works primarily concentrates on the exhibition of images, artifacts referring to people and events with less attention to landscape design or architectural techniques and art that are unique and attractive to tourists. Furthermore, the cultural villages undertake the similar tourism activities. Historical sites visually attracted by their aesthetic values are less appealing to visitors. Only by basing on the tour guides’ presentation on the spot can the values be highlighted and brought to life.
What’s more, the infrastructure of the localities has not been properly invested in. Most of the accommodation areas in the tourist attractions were constructed ages ago with a few rooms, which cannot meet a large number of guests’ demands. They primarily include guesthouses or lodges with limited service quality, poor internet connections and televisions, and insufficient hot water and air-conditioning systems. Moreover, there are solely room rental services provided with no other available additions.
The visitors’ demand for cuisine, recreation and shopping has not been fully satisfied. The entire region is short of a modern system of facilities providing recreational and shopping activities. The supplementary service products and souvenirs are monotonous and unattractive, which does not meet the tourists’ increasing need. As a result, sightseers spend only the daytime visiting the attractions and rarely stay overnight. All the aforementioned factors result in the visitors’ short length of stay and the poor revenue from cultural and historical values.
Moreover, current tourism operations refer to not only sightseeing but also the tourism products from cultural and historical values understood and discovered by tourists, especially international ones, for example underlying expressions behind objects on display, the beauty and the unique features of the traditional culture and history. However, some tour guides’ and service staff’s foreign language and interpretation skills remain poor; the method of delivering presentations proves unappealing; numerous tourist attractions are deprived of on-the-spot guides and narrators, requiring the support of the interpreters and tour guides from travel agencies; the local workforce has not taken any courses in tourism.
Some solutions to develop tourism in association with the conservation and promotion of the revolutionary historical and cultural values in the Viet Bac War Zone
So as to effectively associate tourism development with the preservation and promotion of revolutionary, historical and cultural values in the Viet Bac War Zone, which is realistic for the current regional situation, a number of measures need to be taken as follows:
Firstly, stimulating coordination of investment in tourism infrastructure and technical facilities; continuing to accelerate the investment in the construction of socio-economic infrastructure for the provinces in the Viet Bac War Zone, particularly the progress of the key construction works ought to be hastened such as the Cao-Bac-Lang route, the route from Lang Son to Cao Bang (National Highway 4), the routes from Thai Nguyen to Tuyen Quang, Bac Kan, Cao Bang; the roads to tourist attractions, cultural and historical relics; investment should be prioritized in upgrading the clusters of revolutionary, historical and cultural relics; building water, electricity supplying and communication systems as soon as possible to meet the needs of tourism development; simultaneously, continuing to construct, upgrade and effectively exploit the existing airports in the provinces.
Secondly, combining the popularization of the destinations with building the tourism brand through the spread of tourism images of the Viet Bac War Zone to the world; identifying typical tourism tours for the entire region; connecting the events and festivals in each province aimed at creating chains of alluring tourism operations and enchanting maximum resources of tourists; regularly exchanging tourism information among the provinces through the tourism information database system; maintaining the investment and improvement of the existing associated products in quality such as scenic spots, historical relics, resorts, bathing springs, fishing lakes and ponds; seeking to develop new types of tourism products, for example, mountain climbing, adventure tourism, sports and conference tourism; restoring and developing specialties associated with the traditional trades of the regional localities: raising and crafting handicraft products in the Viet Bac ethnic minorities such as honey farming, brocade weaving and afforestation; associating the exploitation of tourism potential with socio-economic development and the assurance of national defence and security.
Thirdly, closely coordinating with the central-level authorities (Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism), representatives from diplomatic agencies, media outlets, airlines and travel businesses (both internally and externally) to disseminate and popularize the tourism images of each locality and the entire region as well for international and domestic visitors; providing tours, routes or tourism programs to the historical battlefields to attract tourists to the Viet Bac War Zone; concurrently, fostering socialization of associated tourism development in the region combined with the development of community tourism paralleled with domestic and international routes, mechanized to mobilize the innovators of economic sectors to engage in the tourism business.
Fourthly, coordinating to diversify and enhance the quality of tourism popularization; boosting to apply the modern information technology into disseminating and publicizing tourism activities; mobilizing online newspapers and websites to sponsor the information and design special plans and contents as well; connecting the websites among the provinces and cities to provide information and publicize tourism operations, particularly in the localities where tourism cooperation agreements were signed such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city.
Fifthly, encouraging tourism businesses to foster the popularization of tourism operations, building their own brands in particular and each locality’s ones in general; continuing to strengthen training and improving the quality of their human resources, especially establishing a team of professional tour guides who are efficient and knowledgeable about the provinces, cities in the Viet Bac War Zone as well as regional tourist attractions so as to assist visitors in understanding scenic values and distinctive cultures in each locality; regularly paying attention to safeguarding tourism resources and environments, ensuring the security and safety of the tourists and guaranteeing the sustainable exploitation of tourism potential in the entire region./.
(1) The data synthesized from localities in the Viet Bac War Zone, as of June, 2020
(2) Source: The reports by the Departments of Culture, Sports and Tourism in the Viet Bac region
This article was published in the Communist Review No. 1002 (November 2022)