Foreign tourists at a traditional music show in Hoi An, Quang Nam province Photo: Tuoitre
Foreign tourists find local tours unexciting
For many foreign tourists, Vietnam is unexciting because there they few choices of entertainment, with water puppet shows, in fact, being almost the only one.
The northern art form has dominated the tourism market in Hanoi for years, attracting most tourists. The Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre, for instance, is always fully booked and tickets have to be reserved well in advance.
But other theatres, which offer a myriad of other traditional arts from hat tuong and hat cheo to ca tru, have not been that lucky. They rarely fill up even during peak season.
A tour guide in Hanoi’s Old Quarter says “an toi-mua roi” or “dinner-puppet” has virtually become a formula in the industry.
Vu Duy Vu, deputy director of the state-owned SaigonTourist says language is the number one problem his company has to consider when offering entertainment programs to tourists.
Since water puppetry does not involve dialogues, it is more tourist-friendly than other art forms whose singing and lyrics are completely Vietnamese.
Thus travel agencies consider it a safe choice though they know return tourists who see it again and again can easily get bored, he says.
Pham Ngoc Tuan, head of the Vietnam Tuong Theatre which stages hat tuong, said in recent years it has tried to incorporate English interpretations and brochures to make their art more understandable for foreigners.
Recently the theatre’s Thursday shows meant for tourists have even added screens to show English subtitles through the performance but to no avail.
“Although the Thursday show still does not have much attendance, we have to keep doing it,” Tuan said, adding that the effort is also to prove to travel agencies that they are capable of staging these shows regularly.
The theatre approached most of the largest travel agencies in Hanoi and even offered 30-50 percent discounts for incorporating hat tuong shows in their tours, but it has failed to stir interest, he said.
Luu Duc Ke, head of the Hanoi Tourist travel agency, said traditional art forms need to be have better stories and more attractive stage decorations.
“They perform the same show over and over again, without any creativeness or new things.
“Instead of blaming us for not cooperating with them, they should really know what tourists’ needs are.”
The only strong point of Vietnamese traditional theatre forms is that they are cheaper than in Thailand and China, he added.