Vietnam's first international tourism campaign - from 1991? - Rusty Compass travel blog

Vietnam's first international tourism campaign - from 1991?

| 19 Feb 2019
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19 Feb 2019

I’m gonna hazard a guess that this was the first post-war Vietnam tourism promotion in a Western country. It was 1991 and Vietnam was just opening up to the world. I was in my mid twenties and totally besotted with the place. I scored some work helping out a company that was operating Qantas charter flights between Sydney, Melbourne and Ho Chi Minh City. We produced these posters to promote tourism to a destination that was barely open. They were very early days. I love the campaign - but it was a little too early for a tourism boom. This was my first foray into tourism in Vietnam. I’ve been at it ever since.

My 2019 began packing up my house in Sydney. It’s always an unpleasant experience. But the upside is that, packed away in dusty boxes, there are little treasures you haven’t seen for decades. I discovered a few this time. The best was probably this poster - my first Vietnam tourism promotion from 1991. It reads -

Vietnam - after the rain it shines.

Not too long ago, Vietnam touched the lives of many
It was a nation writing history:
A people face to face with their destiny.
But life goes on and as they believe in an old peasants' saying

"After the rain it shines".
Vietnam is again shining

Come and see life
Come and see Vietnam

In 1991, Vietnam’s period of rapid change and development was kicking off. The economy began to open up after decades of war, hardline communism and poverty. A new optimism swept across the country. I was privileged to begin travelling to Vietnam for work during this incredible time. It had such an impact I’ve spent most of my adult life there.



I was working with a company that was operating Qantas charter flights between Sydney, Melbourne and Ho Chi Minh City. It was sixteen years after the end of the war in 1975 and Vietnamese communities around the world were desperate to reconnect with their homeland. Their homeland was ready to offer a tentative welcome.

In 1991, I'd visited Saigon and Hanoi several times and Dalat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Danang, Hue and Halong Bay once. I was an expert - in relative terms anyway. And I was besotted. I persuaded my boss that we should try to promote Vietnam as a tourist destination. This was the campaign we came up with.

Vietnam - After the rain it shines
Photo: Mark Bowyer Vietnam - After the rain it shines

 

The same view today - Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue
Photo: Mark Bowyer Similar view today - Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue
 
Thien Mu Pagoda, Hue
Photo: Mark Bowyer Thien Mu Pagoda today, Hue

 

I shot the image at Thien Mu Pagoda on my first visit to Hue in 1991. The image and the text capture well the sense I had of Vietnam back then - a place of timeless beauty, history and culture and a people of spirit and character.  These have been the qualities that have driven my almost 3 decades of interest in the country.

In 1991, Hue had barely recovered from the Vietnam War. The French era Truong Tien Bridge across the Perfume River was still a mangled ruin from the Tet Offensive of 1968.

Highway 1 around Hue was lined with scrap metal merchants selling the junk of war, still in abundant supply. Piles of rusted tank tracks, old engines and unidentifiable scrap of war were everywhere. Kids still scraped the dirt for unexploded bombs on the Hai Van Pass. I shot the video below on the Hai Van Pass between Hue and Danang in early 1993.

But Hue’s magnetism struck me immediately. And while I recall in the years after, the difficulty in persuading our tour leaders and guides (and often tourists) of Hue's importance and charms, it remains one of the most interesting places in Vietnam.

Despite the decades of tragedy, there was an optimism throughout Vietnam in the early 90s that nobody could miss. The people felt that something great was beginning - and their energy was infectious. The country was impoverished. But there was a noble equality and a united dedication to progress and development.

When I told people back in Australia in 1991 that I was going to be marketing tourism to Vietnam, they assumed this would be a morbid rehash of the war. I’d tell them that the war stories were important, but that the real story of Vietnam was the one of recovery and the spirit of the people. It was true then and almost 30 years later, it remains so.

To get our modest Vietnam marketing campaign together back in 1991, I set to work with a small agency in North Sydney - two Filipino guys. We wanted a campaign that addressed the obvious problem whenever you mentioned travel to Vietnam at that time - the war. People were worried about unexploded ordnance and hostility from the locals after so much suffering.

Then we worked on the words. The guys were great. I’m a little proud of that collaboration as I look back. 28 years later it stands up quite well. I remember we even rented a huge lightbox at the underground entrance to Sydney’s Kings Cross railway station that must have left commuters confused.

This must have been the first Vietnam tourism billboard posted anywhere in the Western world - without a cent of government support.

1991 was a tad early for a Vietnam tourism boom. The crippling US trade embargo was still in place. Travel passes and registrations were required to move anywhere in the country. Infrastructure was in dismal shape. Aircraft from Vietnam Airlines' wobbly fleet of Soviet Tupolevs and Yaks would fall from the sky from time to time.  The few tourists were mostly from the recently dissolved Soviet bloc. Vietnam’s domestic tourism boom was still a decade or more off.

So the campaign wasn’t a huge success. It wasn't even a small success. But I guess it was the first time travellers and the travel industry in Australia began to consider Vietnam as a travel destination. And it began my life-changing interest in promoting Vietnam as a uniquely special place.

 

Vietnam by the Book
I've created a special two week tour of Vietnam - Vietnam by the Book. If you'd like to join me in exploring Vietnam using three books as a guide, check out the Old Compass Travel website here

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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