Drawing inspiration from the mass fish deaths along Vietnam’s central coast caused by Taiwanese Formosa Plastics Group’s steel business this past April, a local tourism union has develped a tour package that features a dramatic fish-and-steel love story narrative.
In early April, dead fish started washing ashore the beaches in Ha Tinh Province, primarily concentrated in an area near the Vung Ang Economic Zone, the location of Formosa’s steel mill.
The phenomenon quickly spread to nearby provinces, including Quang Tri, Quang Binh, and Thua Thien - Hue.
Nearly three months later on June 30, top executives from the Taiwanese firm admitted to wrongdoings on their part which had led to toxic wastewater from the steel plant being dumped directly into Vietnam’s ocean, killing fish and marine life in the area.
The man-made disaster resulted in stagnant fishing activities and tourism industries of the four affected Vietnamese provinces, the economies of which relied heavily on their long coastline for fishing and beautiful beaches to attract tourists.
Drawing inspiration from the incident, the Hanoi-based Scientific Union for Sustainable Tourism Development (STDe) on Saturday held a conference on ‘Awakening Central Vietnam’s Sea Tourism with a Breakthrough Creative Mindset’ to offer solutions for tourism industries in the region.
The union is known for previously offering tourism products that are inspired by natural disasters such as storm, flood, and rain.
At the conference, STDe introduced their latest idea, the ‘Formosa tour package’, which they said would take tourists on a trip through the provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Thua Thien – Hue to explore the legend of the fish-steel love story.
The first stop of the trip is Vung Ang Economic Zone in Ha Tinh, where tourists will witness the birth of the saga between fish and steel, as well as their harmonious coexistence through such activities as fish-steel motor racing, fish-steel coffee tasting, spending a night inside a giant fish-shaped steel hotel, and visiting a museum displaying fish-steel artworks.
A Wooden Fish fishing village, the hometown of a fictional little Miss Wooden Fish, will be the theme of the trip’s second stop in Quang Binh Province. At the village, tourists will explore the ancestors, origin, and legends of the Wooden Fish species, have lunch with Miss Wooden Fish, and learn to carve their own wooden fish.
At their third stop in Quang Tri, tourists will visit the ‘How the Steel Was Tempered’ resort where Miss Fish and the fictional Mister Steel reunite and try to conquer the Dragon’s Gate. The resort will also feature three theme parks, fish-sand, fish-wind, and fish-sun.
The popular Lang Co Beach in Hue City will be the last stop of the trip, where fish-steel is reborn and transforms into a dragon. Tourists will engage in outdoor activities before watching a waterworks performance to conclude the night.
“The legend of fish-steel tells a story about a species of fish that knows not only how to swim but also how to fly, because it had given up its old habits and adjusted itself to adapt to the new conditions and environment,” STDe Chairwoman Dr. Nguyen Thu Hanh explained at the conference.
“The legend of fish-steel, relived through the Formosa tour package, echoes the story of locals in central Vietnam who are full of the will and wisdom to overcome any obstacle in their lives and perfect themselves,” Hanh added.
The idea, however, was instantly met with skepticism and criticism from authorities and experts, who found the tour an offensive rendition of a national disaster.
“They copied the idea of operating tours to disaster-stricken areas from Japan and other countries, but failed to realize that the disasters in those countries were either unintentional or natural, and the consequences of which have been resolved,” economic expert Pham Chi Lan told local newswire Dan Tri.
“I understand that they are using the business mindset to find opportunities amidst a crisis, but this is simply not the appropriate time for it since Formosa hasn’t fulfilled their responsibility and commitment [to compensate for the damage],” Lan said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Director of the Ha Tinh Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism Le Tran Sang told the Tri Thuc Tre online newspaper that the plan makes use of a “delicate” subject that needs further serious consideration.
“[The tour] is only in its conception stage without any specifics. We also suggested at the conference that there must be adjustments to the idea, as it is currently not so appropriate for implementation,” Sang was quoted by Tri Thuc Tre as saying.