APPEALING TO TOURISTS
While each traveler's journey is designed with unique motivations in mind, common reasons for travel and types of travelers are known; these inform package tour providers'efforts to attract clients to the destinations they package into tours. Not all types of travelers are likely to voyage to Vietnam: tourists who seek merely a change of venue or a quick getaway would find the very expense and distance of traveling to Vietnam preemptive. And not all types of travelers are desirable clients for the package tours offered by the international tourism agencies discussed here; young Australian backpackers and European “hippie travelers” on shoestring budgets—what Erik Cohen calls “noninstitutionalized” tourists—are significant in Vietnam's visitor population but contribute minimally to the tourist economy.
For others, however, it is precisely because Vietnam is costly to visit and relatively unknown as an elite tourist destination that they are attracted. For such travelers, tourism enhances social status by displaying the availability of leisure time and expendable income. For these travelers, the more exoticthe destination, the greater the effect—although exoticism need not imply uncomfortable travel conditions. Lenz included Vietnam among the remote and putatively unknown locations
Still others travel to find an “authentic” experience that stands in contradistinction to the modern. Such travelers undertake “pilgrimages” that are not explicitly religious but that nonetheless involve a conversion of the self, or at least the hope that such a transformation will occur. These tourists “seek to see life as it really is, to get in touch with the natives, to enter the intimate space of the other in order to have an experience of real life, an authentic experience.” They wish to leave behind the superficiality of modern life as they know it at home; one travel writer who toured Vietnam by train (because “flying seemed entirely too abrupt and antiseptic”) described Vietnam as “a place beyond the reach of dollars and the American Express Card”—although both are, of course, very much in circulation. For many in this group, Vietnam's ancient pagodas and temples and the ethnic minorities of the northern highlands provide the requisite mystic exoticism.
For those who once served in Vietnam or for their families, travel to Vietnam also may be about a pilgrimage, but into the past. Not unlike the pilgrimages undertaken after World War I to the battlefields at Flanders and the Menin Gate of Ypres described by George Mosse, such journeys are centered on healing and renewal. Reporter Neil Sheehan worked in Vietnam during the war years and vowed to return to witness it under conditions of peace. Others return to relive that period of their own lives, or the lives of a relative who served in the war. Another group of “pilgrims,” albeit with a rather different relationship to Vietnam and its recent history, are the Viet Kieu, or overseas Vietnamese, who represented about onefifth of Vietnam's travelers between 1993and 1995. Pilgrimage into Vietnam's most recent war history is also undertaken by those without a personal connection to the period, but with a curiosity about what happened and an expectation that travel in Vietnam will tell them. A large number of study tours of Vietnam have been organized by universities, for example, either for current students or for alumni who seek a combination of leisure and education.
Still other travelers are less interested in the search for “authenticity” or what MacCannell calls the “nonmodern,” instead seeking culturally anonymous destinations: beaches and golf resorts and dutyfree shopping. Japanese tourists to the beaches of Thailand and Hawaii are often included among this group, and they represent an important
Obtaining these upscale tourists requires the enthusiasm of international travel agents and charter airlines. Travel organizations must invest a great deal of time and money to add new destinations to their existing tour programs, and so must be convinced of the potential of new sites to be both appealing for the clients and profitable for the agencies. Further, there is a great deal of competition for these tourists, particularly in the fastgrowing tourist market in Asia. Thus a new destination like Vietnam, attempting to develop a market out of thin air in the early 1990s, had a formidable task before it, and one in which success depended principally upon the international agencies. It is hardly surprising, then, that Vietnam was willing to delegate to these agencies so much authority over the imagery and narratives to be used in luring tourists.