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Museums in Viet Nam are not appealing enough for tourists, resulting in them being bypassed by agencies organising visitor tours, experts said at a workshop on museum and heritage tourism in the capital on Wednesday.
"Exhibitions are what give a museum its soul, and staff should help tourists understand the value and meanings of the objects on display," said Luu Duc Ke, director of Hanoitourist company. "That's why besides having good exhibits, museums should take care to enhance the capabilities of curators. Then tourism agencies will feel secure enough to take tourists there."
Ke used the Vietnam Museum of National History as a prime example. The museum owns a lot of beautiful and valuable exhibits, but he said that it is failing to attract tourists as most guides are unable to sufficiently introduce these historical objects, especially those giving tours in an unfamiliar language.
This state of affairs has led to tourism companies avoiding taking tourists to visit the museum.
Nguyen Van Cuong, director of the museum, admitted that it is not a popular destination for tourists in Hanoi and does not regularly feature on local travel agency routes.
Huynh Ngoc Van, director of HCM City's War Remnants Museum, highlighted some selling points for her museum.
For example, currently visitors can enjoy watching former guerrilla women and prisoners in the American War cook typical food from that time for tourists to enjoy, such as simple dishes like com nam muoi tieu (pressed rice with pepper and salt), dried banana peel and baked sweet potatoes. The women tell their stories of the war while making the food.
Bui Hoai Son, vice rector of the Culture and Arts Institute, praised the war museum for this initiative and advised other museums to implement similarly innovative measures to broaden their appeal.
Some representatives from museums have said that they can only offer salaries of around VND5 million (US$250) to guides per month, making it difficult for them to find qualified experts.
Ke suggested that museums establish a team of freelance guides, who can come to work at museums part-time, rather than keeping them on permanent contracts.
He also called for special one and two-hour museum tours to be designed, with a focus on appealing to French and Japanese, who he said, are often especially eager to learn about Viet Nam's culture and history.
The culture ministry has tried to enhance the working ties between museums and tour agencies, but this programme has yet to take effect as no tours take visitors to more than three museums.
Hoang Duc Hau, from the ministry, said it was high time for culture managers and museum leaders to renew exhibits and enhance staff training to lure more tourists.
"We have mentioned this issue more than once, but we must do more than just talk. It is not enough," he said.
Presently, the three most popular museums for tourists are the Viet Nam Museum of Ethnology, the Viet Nam Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of Women. The latter can be considered as a rising star as it has recently been named as one of the 80 most visit-worthy destinations in the country.
Despite this, few travel agencies take guests here.
"Despite these issues, museums don't have to rely on travel agencies," said Son. "They can advertise themselves at restaurants and hotels. There is hope for them."