Active efforts

Sporting events are a potential new channel for marketing Vietnam as a tourism destination.

By Le Diem on August 14,2018 09:46 AM

Active efforts

Photos: Topas Travel & Danang Department of Culture & Sports

Runners would already be preparing body and mind for the Vietnam Mountain Marathon in September. This year’s event has some 3,000 people from dozens of countries registered, 20% more than last year. The marathon is just one of many sporting events now organised in Vietnam that contribute to surging numbers of tourist arrivals and reveals a new line of potential for the country’s tourism sector.

Gaining in popularity

First held in 2013 by Topas Travel, the Vietnam Mountain Marathon was the first mountain run in the country. As well as the 42-km marathon were runs of 10 km, 21 km, and 70 km. A 100-km run was added in 2016 and this year a 15-km run is being organised for the first time.

At an altitude of about 1,600 metres above sea level, Sapa is a major tourist destination in Vietnam’s north known for the Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range, Mt Fansipan - Indochina’s highest peak at 3,143 metres - terraced rice fields, dirt trails, and ethnic minority villages. Amazing for sightseeing, hiking and trekking, it was selected as the location for the marathon, with the finish line at Topas Ecolodge, owned by Topas Travel. The lodge is the only one of its kind in Vietnam, situated atop two cone-formed hills set deep in a spectacular valley. ‘The manager of the lodge brought together a team of like-minded mountain lovers to create an extraordinary trail marathon,’ said Mr David Lloyd, Director of Sport at Topas Travel. ‘Our aims at the outset were to share the beauty of the northern trails with more people, both from Vietnam and overseas, and to encourage more people to get active in the outdoors.’

Active efforts

The expectations of the organisers were soon met. The race has seen an increasing number of runners over the years, from 200 in 2013 to 2,500 in 2017 and approximately 3,000 registered this year. The proportion of Vietnamese has grown from around 2 per cent to well over 50 per cent. ‘We sold out some months ago, so it’s great to see the appetite for the outdoors increase so much here,’ Mr Lloyd said.

Seeing the success of the Vietnam Mountain Marathon, Topas Travel held the Vietnam Mountain Bike Marathon in 2016 and 2017. Also taking place in Sapa, with a backdrop of the highest peaks in Indochina, the Marathon gave cyclists the chance to test their skills on everything from smile-inducing single tracks and flowing descents to killer climbs.

Sapa is not the only place to hold marathons, as the passion for runs has spread to many other parts of the country.

Topas Travel held its second running event last year, the Vietnam Jungle Marathon, at Pu Luong Nature Reserve in northern Thanh Hoa province. Pu Luong is home to ancient jungle, soaring limestone peaks, vibrant rice paddy fields, and small villages with dirt trails that Mr Lloyd, who has experienced a lot of trails in different places around the world as a runner and a cyclist, admires as some of the best trails he has seen anywhere.

Active efforts

Two more marathons will also be organised by Topas Travel next year, including the Vietnam Trail Marathon in January on Moc Chau Plateau in northern Son La province. At this time of year Moc Chau is famed for its peach blossoms, which will create an incredible landscape to run through, alongside a huge variety of trails. The other event is the first edition of the Hanoi International Marathon, to be held in April and passing through the capital’s thousand years of history, the ancient Thang Long Citadel and centuries-old pagodas, the peaceful shores of expansive West Lake, and Hoan Kiem Lake and the nearby Old Quarter in the heart of the city. The marathon will also help raise funds for two NGOs - Operation Smile and Newborns Vietnam.

Other events are also being organised by local governments and private enterprises in different places, such as the biennial Dalat Ultra Trail, which started in 2016 in the central highlands city of Dalat, featuring a host of valleys, pine hills and lakes; the Ha Giang International Marathon, organised for the first time last April in northern Ha Giang province, home of the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark and passing through karst mountain ranges, Ma Pi Leng Pass, and pretty terraced rice fields around Meo Vac town and Dong Van town; the Danang International Marathon, being held in August along the central city’s iconic beachside and famous bridges; the Hoi An International Marathon in September, passing through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An ancient town in central Quang Nam province, with charming houses featuring Japanese and Chinese-influenced architecture; the Trang An Marathon, to be held for the first time in September at the Trang An Landscape Complex in northern Ninh Binh province, an idyllic landscape of mountainous forests dotted with mysterious caves creating a UNESCO World Natural and Cultural Heritage; and the Ha Long Bay Heritage Marathon in November, along the shores of the beautiful UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in northern Quang Ninh province.

Fuelling tourism

Marathons are not the only sporting events now finding favour in Vietnam. Thanks to its tropical climate and diverse terrain, with beautiful landscapes from the north to the south featuring hills, mountain ranges, forests, beaches, rivers, lakes, and farming fields, Vietnam is an ideal destination for different types of outdoor sports and activities, according to Mr Huynh Van Hung, Director of the Danang Department of Culture and Sports.

With favourable natural surroundings of immense mountains and blue seas, Danang is and has been home to a number of international events, like the 5th Asian Beach Games in 2016, the first Asia-level multi-sports event in the city and seeing it honoured as Asia’s leading festival and event destination at the World Travel Awards Asia in the same year; the Ironman 70.3 Vietnam last May, with a triathlon of swimming, cycling and running that welcomed 1,600 people from 60 countries; and a paragliding race in June, attracting pilots from Vietnam and overseas, including Babu Sunuwar, the first paraglider from Nepal to take off from Mt Everest, and a group of teachers from a paragliding school in Japan.

Paragliding contests are attracting greater attention, as shown by the large numbers of pilots and visitors heading to recent events such as a paragliding festival held in May at the Khau Pha Mountain Pass in Mu Cang Chai district in northern Yen Bai province; the first Vietnam Paragliding Open at Bu Hill in Hanoi’s Ba Vi district; and the national paragliding contest held in July at Son Duong and Dong Lam communes in Hoanh Bo district in northern Quang Ninh province. All these locations are known for mountains, forests, green fields, and different ethnic minority groups.

Meanwhile, coastal cities and towns host different types of sea sports, such as the first World Windsurfing Championship and the Vietnam Open Sailing Boat Championships held in Hoi An last year, the Danang Kayak Open Race held in Danang last year, and the Fun Cup International Windsurf Race 2018, held in south-central Binh Thuan province early this year.

Vietnam has become one of the world’s most attractive emerging destinations in recent times, welcoming growing numbers of travellers, especially for sporting events. Such events are a good chance for tourists to enjoy new travel experiences in Vietnam and also introduce the beauty of the country, attracting more international visitors and promoting local tourism, according to Mr Hung.

Agreeing, Mr Lloyd said Vietnam possesses abundant potential for sports tourism to boost visitor numbers, especially in largely unknown destinations. Before the Vietnam Jungle Marathon took place in Pu Luong, he explained, few outside of Vietnam knew this area even existed. Now, alongside the many who visited the area for the event itself, around 300,000 watched the race video online, promoting Pu Luong to the world.

Active efforts

Similarly, the Vietnam Mountain Marathon has also helped promote Sapa and the Hanoi International Marathon is expected to showcase aspects of the city that are not yet well known. ‘Our race trailer video showcases not only the Old Quarter but also features flycam footage of West Lake, which many overseas visitors are not aware of,’ he said. ‘We want to promote Hanoi as a beautiful city beyond the standard sights and a great sports event is an excellent way to do that.’

As Vietnam is developing quickly, people can afford to pay more attention to travel, sports and entertainment, increasing the number of domestic visitors to local sporting events. ‘Tourism and sport have a strong connection, as both are important for the spiritual lives of people,’ Mr Hung said. ‘Sporting events always attract a lot of attention from the public and a large number of participants. Families and friends of participants also come to support them and many return for a second visit.’

Such events have received a good response from the public and have clearly become popular. The number of participants has been heading ever-upwards over the years, including more Vietnamese. Clubs like the Danang Runner Club have been established, in 2014, and the Danang Paragliding Club in 2017, to hold events and expand the sporting spirit to others.

Vietnam being a newbie at organising sporting events challenges local leaders to adopt a development strategy for events to meet international standards, Mr Hung added. Events are funded from the State budget more so than from sponsorship, so localities need to call for more support from enterprises to have a shot at success.

Active efforts

There’s also a lot of regional competition, Mr Lloyd said. Thailand, Hong Kong, the Philippines, South Korea and Malaysia all have trail runs and road marathons and compete to attract runners. He believes, though, that Vietnam’s beauty and the success of local events over recent years means that many are willing to choose to come to Vietnam to participate and then plan a holiday around their event. 

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