Attracting investment and taking advantage of all social resources to accelerate tourism growth is the direction being applied by many localities, including Ninh Binh and Ha Nam. Situating in the southwest of the Red River Delta, the two provinces possess a lot of natural resources and cultural heritages and can cooperate with each other to improve tourism competitiveness.
In recent years, Ninh Binh marked impressive growth on the Vietnam's tourism map. In the past five years, the average growth rate of visitors to the province reached about 12.5% a year. In 2018, Ninh Binh welcomed nearly 7.4 million visitors, an increase of 4.6% compared to 2017, of which domestic tourists reaching 6.5 million (up 4.9%) and international arrivals recording 876,000 (up 2.1%).
Tourism revenue reached more than VND3.2 trillion, an increase of 19.2% compared to 2017, exceeding the target set by the Provincial Party Committee. In the first seven months of 2019 alone, the province welcomed nearly 5.8 million visitors, reaching 77.24% of the whole-year plan, up 2.1% over the same period in 2018.
The advantage in natural, cultural and historical resources with nearly 1,500 relics helps Ninh Binh affirm its position as one of the country's key tourism development destination. Places such as Hoa Lu ancient capital, Phat Diem stone church, Bai Dinh pagoda, Tam Coc - Bich Dong, Thung Nham bird park, Van Long wetland nature reserve and especially Trang An scenic landscape - the first mixed cultural and natural heritage of Vietnam and Southeast Asia recognised by UNESCO as a World Cultural and Natural Heritage site, has contributed to building the reputation of a tourism brand for the ancient capital.
Contributing to the strong development, besides the strength in resources , it is necessary to mention the vision as well as the way to exploit and develop tourism by the locality. The deputy head of Ninh Binh Tourism Department, Bui Van Manh, said that in recent years, the province has invested in funds and resources to implement a series of Ninh Binh's destination promotion activities, such as regularly inviting domestic and international travel agencies and journalists to come and experience Ninh Binh tourism to shape local travel routes, destinations and products.
It also aimed to create favourable conditions for international film crews to come to produce their films in Ninh Binh to improve the advertising effectiveness, and actively participating in major domestic and international conferences and fairs, as well as promoting smart tourism.
To create strong development momentum for Ninh Binh tourism, it is also necessary to mention the success of public - private partnership in the field. With the motto of socialising tourism, Ninh Binh has developed mechanisms and policies to create favourable conditions to attract businesses and individuals to invest in tourism development. Over the past five years, the province has attracted more than 30 projects of organisations and individuals with a registered capital of tens of thousands of billion dong. Projects such as the construction of Dong Thai lake tourist resort, Yen Thang lake golf course sport centre, or the road leading to Thung Nham ecotourism area, have contributed to forming a new face for Ninh Binh tourism.
Promoting investment attraction
Trang An complex, covering a total area of 12,000 ha, contains outstanding global values in culture, aesthetics, geology and geomorphology. Among the tourism projects with private investment in Ninh Binh, it can be named the works built with large funds, such as Bai Dinh pagoda - a Buddhist spiritual work that has set many Asian records. According to statistics, 80% of visitors to Ninh Binh come to Trang An - Bai Dinh.
In recent years, these destinations have become a symbol of Ninh Binh tourism, a nucleus connecting other destinations to form complete tours and routes, at the same time creating jobs and stable incomes for more than 20,000 employees, making an important contribution to the local socio-economic development.
These giant projects help Ninh Binh to establish its strength as a destination for world-class events, thereby attracting international visitors and affirming Ninh Binh tourism in particular and Vietnam in general. Since its inception, Bai Dinh pagoda has become a venue for many important events, such as the world Buddhist science conference, the international conference on spiritual tourism for sustainable development organised by the World Tourism Organisation, and notably the 2014 United Nations Day of Vesak with the participation of thousands of international delegates from nearly 100 countries and territories, along with tens of thousands of Buddhist followers in the country and abroad.
It is a positive result from promoting socialisation and attracting investment in tourism development. The direction is also pursued by Ha Nam province in a hope to improve its tourism position, especially with the establishment of Tam Chuc tourist area, the world's largest cultural and spiritual work is under construction in Ba Sao, where it has been chosen to host the UN Day of Vesak Celebrations 2019. The highlight of Tam Chuc is a spiritual area planned on an area of over 140 hectares, featuring many great Buddhist masterpieces.
At the UN Day of Vesak 2019, Tam Chuc pagoda welcomed more than 20,000 domestic and international delegates from more than 100 countries and territories, along with tens of thousands of Buddhists nationwide. This event is not only an important external activity but also an opportunity to promote the image of the country and people of Vietnam, as well as the potential of Ha Nam spiritual tourism to international friends.
Although the project is still in the process of completion, Tam Chuc has become a "keyword" to attract tourists to Ha Nam. According to statistics, during the early 2019 festive season, Tam Chuc tourist area welcomed an average of 7,000 to 8,000 visitors a day, and currently the figure is at 3,000 to 5,000 guests per day, significantly contributing to the growth of tourists in the province.
In 2018, Ha Nam province welcomed nearly 1.3 million visitors, with total tourism revenue reaching VND296 billion. In the first six months of this year, the number of travellers to Ha Nam increased suddenly with more than 1.6 million arrivals, up 112% over the same period in 2018, and the total tourism revenue reached VND370 billion.
Tam Chuc targets to welcome about 3.7 million visitors by 2025, of which international visitors at 470,000 and the total revenue from tourists at about VND1.1 trillion, creating jobs for about 2,400 employees. This goal, if being realised, will help Ha Nam become a key tourism destination in the Red River Delta.
The success of the UN Day of Vesak 2019 has demonstrated the potential of Ha Nam in hosting international-scale events, thereby improving the position of the local tourism brand. For a long time, despite possessing many resources to develop heritage - cultural tourism with over 1,700 relics of all kinds, while being located at an important gateway in the southern part of the Red River Delta near Hanoi, Ha Nam is still only a marginal destination on the travel itinerary, has not attracted many long-stay tourists due to the lack of tourist areas and attractive tourism products.
Therefore, attracting investment to build large-scale and attractive destinations such as the Tam Chuc - Ba Sao complex is opening up prospects to connect the relics and places in Ha Nam, such as Vong cave, Co Doi cave, Thien Phuc pagoda, Ba Danh pagoda, Ly Thuong Kiet temple, Thi pagoda, Le Chan temple and Tam Giao pagoda, thus forming special tours and routes. At the same time, the emergence of Tam Chuc tourism area which is set to become a national tourist complex also strengthens the linkage for Ha Nam with neighbouring provinces.
Linkage to promote spiritual tourism development
In the Ha Nam tourism development master plan to 2030, with a vision to 2050 approved by the Provincial People's Committee, Ha Nam determines that the eco-spiritual tourism product will be a strategic one, with the focus on Tam Chuc national tourism area in association with linkage with other tourism areas in the region.
According to Le Xuan Huy, the head of the Ha Nam Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the two provinces of Ha Nam and Ninh Binh have great potential for developing eco-spiritual tourism with many popular tourist sites and destinations. Tam Chuc tourist area is considered as a key factor that links Huong Pagoda in Hanoi with Van Long nature reserve, Bai Dinh, Trang An and Tam Coc pagoda in Ninh Binh, thus forming an eco-spiritual wetland tourist complex. The geographical distance among such areas and tourist spots is also convenient, making it easier for connecting routes and tours.
In addition, an investment project to build a road connecting Tam Chuc tourist area and Trang An - Bai Dinh and Huong pagoda has been formed. When this route is completed, it will establish a "golden triangle" of spiritual and ecological tourism connecting the largest spiritual tourist areas in the North to attract more tourists.
However, it is not enough only relying on the convenience of transportation and infrastructure. It also needs to link such areas based on their spiritual connection, thereby creating accents and differences for each of such tourist destinations.
On the spiritual route linking Bai Dinh pagoda - Trang An - Van Long - Tam Chuc pagoda - Huong Pagoda, it is possible to organise pilgrimage tours to learn about the national history and culture, such as the spiritual path to learn about the relics of the Dinh - Tien Le - Ly - Tran dynasties, or the pilgrimage in the footsteps of Zen master Nguyen Minh Khong (1065-1141) - a well-known Zen master in Ly dynasty. Experts have said that the formation of such routes would surely create a strong boost for tourism development in the northern provinces.
In tourism development cooperation, local governments play an important role as a locomotive to create bridges and support mechanisms, but the results also depend heavily on the links and coordination of tourism units and businesses. Therefore, attracting investment and promoting the participation of businesses on the basis of enhancing State management is an important solution to form key tourism products, as well as strengthening the ability to link and cooperate to promote tourism growth.