by Nguyen Thi Thuy Anh, Le Phuong, Yang Wei
HANOI, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- Fifteen years ago, Vietnam's Chinese tour guide Nguyen Thi Son Ha had a flourishing career because at that time she was able to assist an average of 200 tourists a month from China.
It is ironic that as more and more Chinese tourists visit Vietnam nowadays, Ms. Ha's services as a tour guide is now almost redundant. She said that she would be lucky if she can assist a dozen Chinese tourists a month.
"The rapid development of the Internet, availability of tourism brochures and increasingly frequent exchanges, make Chinese tourists know Vietnam more directly and they don't need a person or an agency to help them. Most Chinese visitors now prefer travel to Vietnam by themselves, for sightseeing, for holidays and for hobnobbing with the local people," Ha said.
A young Chinese couple who traveled to Da Nang in Central Vietnam told Xinhua that they decided to take a bus by themselves, without the help of a tour guide, to explore the ancient town of Hoi An town.
"We got the information of Hoi An town and how to get there from an online forum held in China," said the couple. With the huge backpacks on their shoulders and a map, the couple said they liked to travel by their own, not through a travel agency, which they found a lot cheaper.
"With all the information provided in advance, we are quite confident that we can go to the chosen sites by ourselves to discover the real life of the local people at any time," the young couple said, adding that they want to spend their holidays in the most comfortable way while in Vietnam, touring scenic and historic spots, enjoying traditional food, and buying souvenir items to bring home.
Nguyen Tung, chief of the Asian Department of Vietnam Tourism Joint Stock Company under the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, said in a recent interview with Xinhua that the rise of the living standards in China has allowed more Chinese people to travel abroad for vacation.
Tung said that because of stepped-up tourism promotions and the improvement of tourism destinations in Vietnam, the county has been able to lure more foreign tourists, including those from China's mainland.
The world's natural heritage site of Ha Long Bay and capital Hanoi in northern Vietnam are among the well-known traditional destinations for Chinese tourists for many years.
The government has built more infrastructure projects and has improved tourism facilities and services in tourism spots in central and southern Vietnam, such as Da Nang and Nha Trang, known for their fine beaches. More and more tourist destinations in Vietnam have been added in the past five years, said Tung.
According to the General Statistics Office (GSO), in 2012, Vietnam had 6.847 million foreign tourists, of which 1.428 million were from China, ranking first among foreign tourists to Vietnam. In the first nine months of 2013, the figure reached nearly 5.5 million, with 1.36 million from China.
Tung said that with an average of 20 flights a week from China to Da Nang and more flights to southern Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, air travel is the most convenient way for Chinese tourists to visit Vietnam other than taking road or sea routes.
"The closeness between the two countries and the convenience of visa and entry procedures, as well as the increase in number of five-star hotels and improved services, are also plus points for the country's tourism sector in attracting traditional Chinese tourists," Tung added.
Ha and other tour guides have to face up to the reality on the ground. Ha said that while their services for tourists are no longer viable, they have shifted to help entrepreneurs, including those from China, do some research on investment opportunities, as economic and trade exchanges between the two countries have increased tremendously over the last few years.