(No.4, Vol.8,Aug-Sep Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
The night view of the Imperial Palace in Hue. Photo: Nguyen Van Loi
Thai Hoa Palace at night, Hue. Photo: Vo Bay
A performance at the Festival Hue 2014. Photo: Le Quang Thien
Recently, the former imperial city of Hue proposed plans to boost tourism in an attempt to revive the sectorâ€™s heydays. The city has been appraised as having the most tourism potential in the country, thanks to its UNESCO heritage titles, scenic landscapes and vast lagoon system.
Experts urged the city to utilize its potential, as Hue seems to lag behind other cities in Vietnam in tourism growth.
â€˜Hue has the maximum potential for tourism in the country, but this charming city has yet to become a top destination for visitors,â€™ said Vietnam Tourism Association chairman Nguyen Huu Tho.
Tho said dynamic management of the sector would soon result in a better tourism profile for the city.
Nguyen Van Phuc, deputy director of the local tourism department, said the sector is targeting to make use of food varieties in the city to renew the sector.
Researchers said among the 3,000 varieties of food found in Vietnam, some 1,700 dishes are made in the city, but visitors have hardly seen a decent restaurant serving authentic Vietnamese food.
â€˜Procedure the building of a museum for Hue gastronomy is underway. We found it is a must to conserve the authenticity of local dishes as well as to serve the visitors better,â€™ said Phuc of the tourism department.
According to him, local sector is working with a big tourist operator from HCMC to build the museum and local authorities have reserved a wide plot of land at the centre of the city for the project.
Meanwhile, the department and the project investor are working with experts and researchers across the country to obtain documents recording the dishesâ€™ authentic ingredients and recipes. Both grassroots and royal recipes will be available at the museum.
The proposed museum is expected to meet demands of dining, researching and taking part in the food-making process with instructions by local artisans.
â€˜The museum will have a space for study and showcasing the food, a space for dining and a space for visitors who want to join the chefs. We expect it to function perfectly for the conservation of local cuisine and offer good menus to visitors,â€™ Phuc said.
In the meantime, local authorities of Thua Thien Hue Province, which includes the city of Hue, have recently announced a plan to build trademarks for prominent local dishes as well as create signatures for Hue food in general.
Related agencies will work to have signature boards at restaurants and eateries serving authentic local dishes for easier recognition by visitors during their stay in the city.
Authorities also urged local operators to have tour programmes focusing on street food, dishes made from ingredients taken from lagoons, and grassroots and royal courses. One of the highlights of those tours is Hue vegetarian food, which has developed in the city due to the influences of Buddhism that took root here hundreds years ago.
The tour itineraries are, at the same time, expected to help visitors explore gardens growing fresh vegetables and witness the selection of ingredients in traditional markets as well as the cooking process.
Local authorities are ambitious for a strong boost for tourism from the utilization of plentiful food sources and recipes as well as a formal recognition of Hue as a â€˜city of foodâ€™.
On the other hand, authorities also wanted a place for visitors to Hue gathering far from the old citadel, expecting to make the city into a fresh breath from values representing the past.
Earlier in July, construction of a tourism mart was approved. Following the approval, a 22.86ha mart would be built the east of the city and its hotel facility could house 320 visitors.
The mart will have a complex of hotels, trade centres, and parks. It will also include a nearby residential area sufficient for 1,200 residents.
A lake, trees, a square and small parks will stay at the core of the mart and trade centres, including a tourism space, a floating market and duty-free stores, will be located in the surrounding area.
Along with the gastronomy museum, the mart is expected to create a boom in the number of tourists to the city.
Since last year, the city has come up with creating night attractions to rescue Hue from the bad reputation of a â€˜sleep earlyâ€™ city as both locals and visitors find it boring at night.
In the backpacker area, authorities have banned vehicles during weekends, expecting to have a â€˜free streetâ€™ for late night events like Laoâ€™s Vang Vieng and Thailandâ€™s Bangkok
Experts encouraged the city to make the project really interesting for tourists as for the last few months, the night streets have showed no prominent features compared to other streets in the city.
Inside the citadel, the conservation centre created a night show that they called â€˜Imperial Palace by nightâ€™. The show allows visitors to see the royal buildings under the illuminating effects and performances of royal music, dance, games and re-enaction of night patrols.
The night show has helped to attract more visitors to the city and reduce the situation of visitors fleeing to Hoi An and Danang after a day in Hue. Visiting the citadel at night, however, means no visits to this royal place in the daylight. Thus, visitors wanted to have interesting activities to entertain them during the day.
Many said it would be best if the city could brainstorm some plans to deal with the demand soon.
The Truong Tien Bridge, one of the icons of the city, is going to get some 0.4 million USD to replace its existing light system.
The bridge is a place that almost all Vietnamese want to walk on when they are in Hue. The city had a light system to make it charming at night, but now they want something more.
The city chairman said the new system would be more modern and make the bridgeâ€™s steel frame an art work.
The light upgrade is also an attempt to add more recreation from the night street project, as the backpacker corner is located near the bridge.
Locals supported whatever the city wanted to do to lift up the cityâ€™s economy with revenue from tourism, whether the city projects work well or not. On their side, the city has shown strong determination by inviting big investors, including Vingroup and Bayan Tree from Singapore.