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Ha Long Bay boats to be painted white to revive image

Authorities in the northern province of Quang Ninh have asked that Ha Long Bay boats be painted white, saying the change befits the bay's recent international recognition.

A report Friday in VnExpress said, under the decision issued on Thursday by Quang Ninh's People's Committee, all tourist boats, except dragon boats, will be white with brown sails. Boats which fail to follow the decision by April 30 will have their licenses revoked.

The move aimed to tighten government control over tourist transport, especially the boats providing over-night accommodations in Ha Long Bay, an unnamed official from Quang Ninh's transport department was quoted as saying. 

He said it also aimed to renovate the image of local tourist boats after the bay was named on the preliminary list of seven new natural wonders of the world by the Switzerland-based New7Wonders Foundation last November.

However, soon after the decision came down, which would affect more than 500 boats, the Association for Ha Long Tourist Boats sent a letter to the provincial People's Committee and related agencies expressing disagreement, the newswire reported.

Pham Van Hoa, director of Bai Tho Transport Co., said the change was unnecessary, because tourists tend to like the traditional brown of Ha Long Bay's wooden boats.

White is only a suitable color for large steel boats and cruisers because it makes wood susceptible to blackening and would end up making such boats look worse, not better, he said.

Moreover, to repaint all the boats would cost businesses too much, Hoa said, adding that his company would probably have to spend some VND1 billion ($47,500) to repaint 20 boats.

"If the provincial authorities have made up their mind, local businesses have to follow along, but I think that it will change back to the old paint," he said.

Doan Van Dung, chief of the tourist boat association, agreed. He said by painting all boats white, Ha Long Bay will lose an endearing characteristic the traditional brown of Asian culture.

"It costs between VND30-40 million ($1,400-1,900) and three to four months to repaint a boat," Dung said. "Before issuing the decision, Quang Ninh's authorities should have consulted tourists and travel companies."


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Meanwhile, Dao Hong Thuong, vice director of Vietsky Travel Center, said it was unreasonable to ask all the bay's boats to have the same paint, as each of them is already identified by different logos and designs.

Foreign tourists are always impressed by the black and brown boats of Ha Long Bay, since they look welcoming and authentically Vietnamese, so local authorities shouldn't't switch them to white paint like that of foreign yachts, according to Thuong.

In December, Quang Ninh's authorities also drew criticism for their decision to nearly double admission fees to Ha Long Bay. Citing inflation and the New7Wonders Foundation's recognition, authorities asked tourists to pay between VND40,000 and VND100,000 (US$1.9-4.7) each, from December 1. 

However, many said the sudden increase was unreasonable due to the lack of improved services and would burden local tourism, already facing difficulties due to wild price hikes in fuel and airfares, as well as the worldwide economic recession.