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HCM City to revamp waterway tourism programme

The HCM City metropolitan area, which lies downstream of the Dong Nai-Sai Gon river system, is surrounded and traversed by nearly 1,000 kilometres of rivers and canals, which offer enormous potential for waterway tourism.

VietNamNet Bridge – The HCM City metropolitan area, which lies downstream of the Dong Nai-Sai Gon river system, is surrounded and traversed by nearly 1,000 kilometres of rivers and canals, which offer enormous potential for waterway tourism.


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Sai Gon River at night. Photo Dinh Hue

 

 

In recognition of this potential, the city in 2013 began a programme for waterway activities, but a lack of sufficient investment in infrastructure as well as the effects of pollution have led to disappointing results, according to experts who spoke at a seminar held on November 22 in HCM City.

From 2013 to the third quarter of this year, the number of tourists buying river tours rose 11.5 per cent to 257,700. But in the first nine months of the year, the number remained unchanged at 68,000 compared to the same period last year, Bui Ta Hoang Vu, director of the city’s Tourism Department, said.

Phan Xuan Anh, a researcher in culture and tourism, who is also chair of the board for Saigon Boat Co, said that exploring the Sai Gon River and its waterways as well as canals surrounded by lush tropical foliage are popular activities for foreign tourists.

The city’s main source of fresh water is Dong Nai River, which has a large basin of 45,000 sq.km, while the 200-km long Sai Gon River flows though 80 km of the city’s area.

Apart from these main rivers, the city has a dense network of canals, including Ben Cat, Tham Luong, Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe, Ben Nghe, Tan Hoa- Lo Gom and Tau Hu.

Since 2013, the city has allocated funds for 13 berths and wharfs for tourist boats to dock, while 21 others have been funded by private investors.

The number of river tourism operators rose to 37 firms, with more than 130 boats in 2014, compared to five firms with 37 waterway transport in 2011.

Last year, however, the number of operators fell to 19 with around 100 boats, due to the closure of Bach Dang Wharf, a busy docking place for tourism boats and floating restaurants on Sai Gon River, according to Vu.

Challenges

In late 2012, the Saigontourist Holding Company was assigned by the city government to explore river tourism, Pham Huy Binh of Saigontourist said. By mid-2013, the company had launched seven river tours to lure domestic and foreign tourists but the results were short of expectations.

Speaking at the seminar on river tourism in HCM City, Binh said the services were unattractive for a number of reasons, including poorly developed docking berths and tourist services along the banks of rivers and boat stop stations, as well as pollution and high tour fares.

To attract tourists, Saigontourist invested in a new 800-seat boat, which included a restaurant, for sightseeing tours. However, after the Bach Dang Wharf closed, tourist boats had to dock at Tan Cang Port in Binh Thanh District, far from the city centre, making it difficult to attract visitors for river tours, Binh said.

He said a city master plan on river tourism should be developed in a timely manner so that businesses can then create their own plans.

Phan Xuan Anh, board chairman of Saigon Boat Co. Ltd, said that rowboat tours along the Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe Canal had to be suspended because of pollution and massive fish deaths. "The canal is still polluted as waste is discharged into the canal by local residents," he added.

The boat tour, which was launched last year, received positive feedback from foreign tourists, but waste must be removed from the canals, Anh said.

Duong Thanh Thuy, chairwoman of the Trung Thuy Group, has invested in a new river tourism product called “Goc Sai Gon” (Sai Gon Corner).

The project on the Ben Nghe-Tau Hu canal in District 1 will be designed with different sections from Mong Bridge to Khanh Hoi Bridge, including a community space in old Sai Gon as well as corners for street food and coffee, according to Thuy.

Solutions

Nguyen Thanh Phong, chairman of the city’s People’s Committee, said the development of river tourism would play a vital role in the tourism industry, a spearhead economic sector for the city, and that solutions were being proposed to revamp the waterway programme.

Phong has asked the tourism department to quickly finalise the river tourism development plan.

He has also asked departments and local authorities to conduct inspections of the banks of Sai Gon River to find places to build docking berths for tourist boats.

Bui Xuan Cuong, director of the city’s Department of Transport, said the department had proposed setting aside an area of 1,800 metres at Nha Rong-Khanh Hoi Port for tourist boats.

He said that Binh Loi Bridge had been upgraded to allow tourist boats to enter the city’s centre.

“Enterprises cannot make business plans to develop river tours as the city has failed to present a master plan as well as provide concrete information on river tourism development,” Bui Ta Hoang Vu, director of the city’s Tourism Department, said.

Next year, when the tourism department implement its tourism waterway plan, companies will then be able to develop their own tourism business plans, according to Vu.


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 Waterway tourism remains underdeveloped in HCM City

HCM City struggles to diversify tourism products

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