Poor port facilities have contributed to an alarming drop in cruise tourism to Vietnam , according to Vu The Binh, a senior official of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.

Since the beginning of this year, only 52,300 visitors came to Vietnam by sea, Binh said, a fall of 54 percent from the same period last year.

This number was equivalents to 2.11 percent of the total foreign visitors to the country, against a peak of 12 percent.

“The number of cruise tourists coming to Vietnam has still been low despite the fact that the country has great potential to develop cruise tourism with its 3,260 km of beaches,” Binh said.

Other than the economic crisis, poor infrastructure was a key reason for the downturn, he said.

While regional countries such as Singapore have built modern ports for cruise tourists, Vietnam only has industrial ports.

Nguyen Anh Tuan, a senior official of the administration, agreed. He said cruise tourists were well-heeled so their demand for service was high.

Nguyen Thanh Binh, director of Tan Hong Tourist and Trade Company Ltd’s Hanoi branch, said the fact that ports and their service roads were clogged with street vendors didn’t help - they made cruise tourists feel uncomfortable.

Also, cruise tourists liked shopping and cuisine, which was not up to the standard in many parts of Vietnam . Added to that was the poor condition of roads from the ports to the main attractions.

The experts agreed that upgrading infrastructure was necessary. Specialised ports must be constructed with high services in some or all of the most attractive places, such as Hue , Da Nang , Sai Gon, Phu Quoc, Ha Long, Con Dao and Nha Trang.

Provinces needed to reorganise their services by developing craft villages and entertainment around the tourist centres.

Promotion also was important , such as boosting cooperation with other countries and territories in the region where cruise ships stop, such as Singapore , Malaysia and Hong Kong .

Vietnam is a transit place for cruise ships. The ships stop for a short time only two or three days, which makes the exploitation of this type of tourism difficult.

Travel companies should forge relationship with foreign tourism companies so that they could visit Vietnam to study its cruise destination potential, they said.

Also, the experts proposed the government permit more cruise tourism companies to join those already with branch in Vietnam , which include Saigontourist, Tan Hong, OSC Travel and Vitour./.