Long live King Kong: Tourist numbers rise in Vietnam provinces where film shot

Industry insiders say credit lies with more than just the cinematic beast

An aerial view of Tu Lan Cave, the Kong: Skull Island setting in Quang Binh Province, central Vietnam.

Tourist numbers in Quang Ninh, Quang Binh and Ninh Binh, three Vietnamese provinces where significant portions of the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Kong: Skull Island’ were shot, have risen slightly in the week following the film’s global release.

The number of visitors to Quang Ninh, home to the famous Ha Long Bay and the setting for Skull Island in film, is 10 percent higher than the same time last year, Trinh Dang Thanh, deputy director of the provincial tourism department, said.

Luu Duc Ke, director of travel firm Hanoitourist, said the number of tourists booking packages to the three provinces in the last two weeks rose approximately 20 percent, with most choosing to visit Ninh Binh.

However, most of the company’s customers are domestic tourists, Ke admitted.

Nguyen Cong Hoan, deputy CEO of Hanoi Redtours, said tourist arrivals to the three provinces have really made “no significant increases” since the film’s premiere on March 10.

“But we hope that international tourists will soon begin visiting these destinations,” he added.

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is the first Hollywood blockbuster to be filmed primarily in Vietnam, with up to 70 percent of its runtime shot in Quang Binh, Quang Ninh and Ninh Binh.

The movie opened with tremendous commercial success in Vietnam last weekend, grossing VND62.5 billion (US$2.79 million) in its first three days, making it the biggest opening weekend in the history of Vietnam’s box office.

Skull Island in real life. Video: Le The Thang

Because of Kong?

Industry insiders believe that the recent tourist arrival increases in the three provinces have little to do with the movie.

“More people are visiting Quang Ninh, but not just because of the ‘Kong effect’,” Thanh, the representative of the provincial tourism department, explained.

“They’re visiting because of our tourism promotion projects and new attractions.”

Thanh credited the tourism number rise to the province’s effort in improving its tourism environment, including crackdowns on rip-off traders.

“We are working with the other two provinces to set up a new itinerary that would guide tourists through cultural heritage sites thought Quang Ninh, Ninh Binh, and Quang Binh,” he said.

“We’ll have to wait a little longer before we can establish whether or not the Kong movie will impact the provinces’ tourism sector.”

Ke, from Hanoitourist, also said most visitors had booked tours to the provinces before the movie hit screens, “so we can’t conclude that they are visiting Ninh Binh because of Kong.”

The film’s director, U.S. filmmaker Jordan Vogt-Roberts, has been appointed as Vietnam’s tourism ambassador for the 2017-20 tenure in a bid for Vietnam to take advantage of the ‘Kong effect’ to boost its international arrivals, though the tourism minister Truong Minh Tuan warned against overusing the image giant ape.

“I realize that many tourism promotion projects in Quang Binh feature images from ‘Kong: Skull Island’,” Tuan said at a press meeting on Thursday, “but we should not turn Quang Binh [and its famous] Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park into Skull Island.”

The minister asserted that the Kong images should not be used so widely in the province’s tourism promotion activities.

“Don’t make Kong the chief symbol of Quang Binh,” he warned.

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