HANOI, 1 November 2018: World Heritage Halong Bay is beginning the count down to the opening of the ASEAN Tourism Forum that will be hosted at the famous bay, 14 to 18 January 2018.
While critics dismiss the ATF as an expensive recycling of the same travel buyers who tour other Southeast Asian travel marts earlier in the year, it gives travel executives an opportunity to see first hand Vietnam’s most popular destination after Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
Around 1,000 delegates, a mix of travel content sellers and international buyers, plus 200 travel writers and a troupe of tourism officials from the 10-member countries that make up ASEAN are expected to attend.
At the outside around 2,000 travel industry executives and tourism officials will attend including the buyers estimated at around 500 based on past attendance figures that cannot be independently verified.
By the time the show opens, the Halong Bay’s Van Don airport should be operational for at least domestic flights.
Initially, it will be served by nine routes and will have the capacity to serve 7,000 passengers daily, rising to an annual capacity of 2.5 million passengers by 2020 and 5 million by 2030.
Developed by Vietnam’s Sun Group at a cost of USD330 million it’s the closest airport to Halong Bay and cuts out the overland road transfer from Hanoi that took more than four hours before the new 24.6km Haiphong-Halong expressway opened in September.
The overland transfer distance from Hanoi to Halong Bay has now been cut from 180 to 130 km, while travel time is around two hours and 45 minutes via the Hanoi-Haiphong six-lane expressway that opened in 2015 and the new Haiphong-Halong four-lane highway.
Located on Van Don Island, the privately owned airport is close to a glitzy casino that is also due to open soon. Despite being the closest airport to Halong bay passengers will still need to make a 50 km overland bus transfer to the centre of Halong Bay’s port city.
Presently, the nearest operational airport is at Haiphong around 85 km from the bay with a bus transfer time of two hours and 20 minutes.
TripAdvisor lists 71 hotels in Halong Bay city area, but the official brochure for ATF identifies just 15 properties that have set aside allotments for delegates.
The ATF will be hosted at the Quang Ninh Exhibition of Planning and Expo Centre (QNEPEC), that stands in the centre of Halong City in Quang Ninh province.
Built in just 19 months, QNEPEC is already considered an iconic building representing Halong Bay city’s tourism and economic achievements.
It features 21,000 square meters of floor space and cost VND1.15 trillion (USD51.34 million) to build.
Located on Tran Quoc Nghien Street the complex consists of two separate buildings connected by a system of elevators, escalators, and stairs.
The first building is used to showcase regional planning models and host events, exhibitions, and expos.
A second dolphin-shaped building is reserved for the exhibition of public projects and signature architectural and religious structures in the province.
Quang Ninh the host province for the ATF welcomed more than 10 million tourists in the first nine months of this year with around 3.6 million foreigners visiting the province mostly day trippers joining scenic cruises of Halong Bay.
Quang Ninh hopes to close this year with 12 million visitors including 5 million foreigners, and clock up earnings of around USD 968 million.
By 2020, the province estimates tourist arrivals could reach 16 million including 7 million foreigners.
Better road and air access will put considerable pressure on Halong Bay, which is already facing the blight of “overtourism” caused mainly by hundreds of tour boats packed with tourists that upset the sensitive balance of the bay’s marine environment.
Day-trippers heading for Halong Bay are drawn to amusement parks, a casino, cable car rides and sightseeing cruises on the bay. But the city itself is criticised for its ugly city planning and one developer announced recently yet another 1,000-room high-rise hotel due to open in 2020 that will further urbanise the coastline.
According to Quang Ninh’s master plan on ‘tourism development 2020 and vision 2030’ the objective is to turn Quang Ninh into the nation’s leading tourism centre.
The province has a coastline of more than 250 kilometres and over 2,000 islands, two-thirds of all surveyed islands in Vietnam.
The spectacular stretch of coast connects the UNESCO-recognised World Heritage Halong Bay with Bai Tu Long Bay, Van Don and Co To islands and Tra Co beach with Cat Ba National Park in the northern port city of Haiphong.
The risk for Halong Bay’s World Heritage status is ever present as illustrated by CEO a global consumer magazine that recommends travellers to Vietnam should “avoid overcrowded Halong Bay in favour of boat trips to its equally beautiful neighbour, Bai Tu Long Bay and to venture inland to the world’s largest caves, Hang Son Doong.”