Tourism in Vietnam is finally getting sexy! Late last year, the powers that be appointed a new “tourism ambassador” in the shapely form of actress Ly Nha Ky, who, as the comment in the title suggests, seems to be more famous for getting her kit off than for her knowledge of tourism or ambassadorial qualities. As the report says, “At the Nha Trang Sea Festival in June, she was criticized for exhibiting 500 photos of herself in swimsuits and revealing clothes for a charity event.” I’d imagine that this would have been pretty much the only interesting thing about the Nha Trang Sea Festival, but that is beside the point.
The idea of tourism ambassadors is a good thing, provided that ambassador has some sort of fame or renown in the market in which they are working. However as usual, Vietnam’s authorities can only think domestically, and whilst the comely Ms Nha Ky may be a household name here in VN (though a quick vox pop in my household confirmed that noone here knew who she was, but then as my household consists solely of a 4-yr old girl and a Filipina housemaid, it may not be a particularly representative sample), it’s highly unlikely that anyone outside Vietnam is aware of her existence – which kind of makes her pretty useless as an ambassador.
When picking a tourism ambassador you can go down one of two routes – you can either pick someone from your own country who is internationally famous (for example, Victoria Beckham was recently named British tourism ambassador), or you can use foreign nationals who are well known in their own local markets to help market your destination, such as Indian actor/producer Akshay Kumar, who promotes Canada in his native country.
Sadly Ly Nha Ky doesn’t fit either description. I recently had lunch with celebrity chef Bobby Chinn at his new Saigon restaurant, and he told me he’d offered to do a bit of ambassadorial work for Vietnam, promoting the country via his hugely popular World Cafe Asia TV show. He got no response. At a 2010 trade show I asked a VNAT official why they didn’t approach someone like Anthony Bourdain, a huge Vietnamophile and a well known figure in the US, Australia & Europe, to help market Vietnam in those territories. The official had no idea who Bourdain was, nor what I was talking about.
To judge the effectiveness of foreign tourism ambassadors, look at the 2008 Top Gear Vietnam special. Now personally I hate Top Gear with a passion, especially Jeremy Clarkson, whom I would only like to see as an ambassador for the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, offering his own first-hand testimonial regarding its facilities and efficiency, but the show gave Vietnam’s tourism a HUGE boost. I lost count of the number of people who watched it & then emailed me or called me saying things like wow, you’re so lucky to live there, it looks amazing, I never realised it was so beautiful etc. And yet the authorities here continue to make it difficult for foreign film crews to work here.
So whilst Ly Nha Ky may be easy on the eye and is a fine example of Vietnamese womanhood, as a tourism ambassador her effectiveness is limited. Far more effective to appoint a foreigner who knows and loves Vietnam – after all, when you’re working in tourism, foreigners are your target market.