Viet Nam moves to tap film-induced tourism
Update: Mar 23, 2017
Viet Nam, with its gorgeous and otherworldly natural and cultural heritage sites, which film producers crave, is willing to host foreign film productions after the fresh success of “Kong: Skull Island” shot in northern Ninh Binh, Quang Ninh and central Quang Binh provinces.

Viet Nam boasts untouched nature

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts spent six months searching the globe for places to film “Kong: Skull Island”. At first sight, his professional eyes and heart were captured by Ha Long Bay and Trang An tourism complex in the provinces of Quang Ninh and Ninh  Binh, and Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in the central province of Quang Binh.

All of his crewmembers lavished praise on the UNESCO-recognised world natural and cultural heritage sites. In a recent interview with Channel NewsAsia, Vogt-Roberts called Viet Nam a raw, powerful and unspoiled beauty with a ruggedness that most audiences have not experienced on screen before.

Brie Larson, starring in the film, was impressed with the untouched spectacular scenery and wondrous natural structures, saying that its beauty was why Vietnam was chosen for filming, while actor Tom Hiddleston said working in Viet Nam was a privilege because people were so hospitable and he had never seen such landscapes anywhere else in the world.

From being reluctant for foreign film productions…

Viet Nam is bestowed with an attractive nature which was the background for other successful movies. In 1992, the French film “Indochina” by Regis Wargnier shot in Viet Nam won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 65th Academy Awards. However, the number of foreign films shot in Viet Nam over the past decades can be counted on one hand. There are several reasons for this.

In 2012, the project “Bourne Legacy”, starring Jerremy Renner, was moved to the Philippines instead of Viet Nam, as the country was not ready to host an international blockbuster. Previously, “Bond 18”, which was initially set to be filmed in Viet Nam, also had to move to Thailand for the same reason.

Ngo Phuong Lan, Director of the Viet Nam Cinema Department under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, told the Viet Nam News Agency’s (VNA) correspondent that all foreign film scripts must be approved by Viet Nam’s competent agencies before the filming begins. However, the procedure requires coordination between several ministries, sectors and localities at different levels, and sometimes it hampered some projects. A number of localities also worried that filming could damage their natural landscapes.

More recently, Joe Wright scoured the world looking for a place that perfectly fits the magical world of Neverland for the classic movie “Pan” with Hugh Jackman. He found his dreamland in the world’s biggest cave, Son Doong in Quang Binh and got approval from Vietnamese authorities. However, without promotion and marketing strategies, Viet Nam’s tourism sector enjoyed few benefits from the project.

…to seizing opportunities triggered by cinema

One day before “Kong: Skull Island” premiered, Vogt-Roberts was appointed as Viet Nam’s Ambassador of Tourism for the 2017 -2020 term. The move aims to take full advantage of his fame and the blockbuster to promote Vietnam’s tourism. Previously, then Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung paid a call on the crew while they were filming in Ninh Binh province, sending a clear message that Viet Nam has opened the door to foreign filmmakers after decades of hesitation.

In an interview with VNA’s correspondent, Deputy Director General of the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) Ngo Hoai Chung said the tourism sector considers this event a golden opportunity. Numerous tours related to “Kong: Skull Island” have been offered, such as “Kong’s journey” and “Kong’s homeland”, connecting Quang Binh – Ninh Binh – Quang Ninh for tourists to experience Viet Nam’s nature, as it was on the big screen.

The sector has also developed videos featuring Viet Nam’s nature as well as spectacular scenes taken from the movie to show at overseas tourism promotion events, and send them to Vietnamese embassies around the world and other representative offices abroad, Chung said.

Other products, such as Kong models, 3D photos, posters and short clips will be showcased to lure tourists to the sites while enhancing tourism service quality and strengthening protection and preservation of the natural environment, he added.

Viet Nam is ready to compete with neighbouring nations to be a hot spot for filmmakers, Chung affirmed.

Tourism and cinema – A perfect marriage

The win-win relationship between tourism and cinema is undeniable. Facts and figures have attested to this perfect marriage. “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” by director Peter Jackson were shot in New Zealand. The country has seen a 50 percent increase in arrivals since the Lord of the Rings was released. The Hobbiton Movie Set has appealed to many tourists who visited the country. Currently, tourism is the second largest industry of New Zealand, behind dairy, tourism expert Gregg Anderson told Forbes magazine.

Since “Bond 18” left Viet Nam for Thailand in 1997, Thailand has hosted dozens of thousands of international productions, generating a massive fortune. According to the Thailand Film Office within the Department of Tourism, the country earned 380 million USD from hosting 4,470 foreign productions since 2010.

“Kong: Skull Island” worth 185 million USD has just debuted in 65 countries worldwide, including Viet Nam, kicking off a strong media and press campaign at home and abroad, with audiences and critics lauding the movie and the wondrous natural scenes of Viet Nam. According to VNAT, the number of international arrivals to Viet Nam reached 2.2 million in the first two months of 2017, an year-on-year increase of 33 percent. The blockbuster is expected to contribute to an increase of 30 percent after its debut.

Addressing the ceremony to announce his appointment as Viet Nam’s Ambassador of tourism, Vogt-Roberts praised the landscapes and the warm welcome people offered to him, and expressed his hope that the film would encourage more people and Hollywood filmmakers to visit and explore Viet Nam.

Cinema can inspire viewers and send messages via sight, sound, feelings and thoughts, Ngo Phuong Lan said, adding that promoting tourism via cinema was ideal. The domestic film titled “Toi thay hoa vang tren co xanh” (Yellow flowers on the green grass) by Victor Vu has helped the south central province of Phu Yen become a tourist magnet, she said.

In addition to huge economic values, the domestic cinema industry will benefit from international film productions in Viet Nam, allowing local filmmakers to learn from the working style, production, marketing and promotion skills of Hollywood producers, Lan added.

Action plans to lure international tourists

VNAT introduced its new tourism slogan “Viet Nam - Timeless charm” to replace the old “Viet Nam - Hidden charm” in 2014, with the aim of promoting new experiences available with more positive, confident and open-minded energy. One year later, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched high-quality seven-minute video clips “Welcome to Viet Nam” in nine languages, featuring the beauty of the landscapes and people of Viet Nam. The effort marked the first official media-based promotion strategy to introduce Viet Nam worldwide.

The capital city of Ha Noi was a pioneer among 63 provinces and cities to sign a deal with the Cable News Network (CNN) to broadcast its images across the globe. Under the deal worth 2 million USD, the US channel helped Ha Noi produce 30-second promotional videos, three- and five-minute reportages, as well as a 30-minute programme and promote them on its television channel and social media throughout 2017 and 2018. The two promotion videos have just been broadcast on the channel.

According to Ngo Hoai Chung, only 3 million USD is earmarked from the state budget for tourism promotion and marketing each year. The amount is too modest in comparison with other nations in the region and the world. The figures are 70 million USD, 100 million USD and nearly 120 million USD in Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines, respectively.

In 2017, the sector aims to mobilise 15 million USD for promotion and marketing activities, up 15 percent from 2016. It also hopes to earn 20.5 billion USD from serving 11.5 million foreign visitors and 70 million domestic holidaymakers, up 11.5 percent and about 12 percent, respectively.

The Party’s resolution on developing tourism into a spearhead economic sector by 2020 was issued early this year. The draft Law on Tourism is scheduled to be approved during the upcoming third meeting of the 14th National Assembly. The tourism sector is hoped to grow strongly, with the cinematic sector and media offering great contributions. With the participation of localities and tourism agencies, Viet Nam has a solid foundation to believe that all long-term and short-term tourism targets are achievable, Chung reiterated.