I was walking through the streets of Ha Noi, when a shoe polisher insisted on cleaning my ‘apparently’ dirty shoes. I happened to be in the capital city of Viet Nam for ‘business matters’ – not as a tourist. However, since I did not manage to make the stereotypical appearance of a ‘business man’, I could not avoid the multiple attempts of various service providers to buy whatever they had to offer.
A very different experience in Metro Manila: I was showing friends the few touristic highlights of the capital city of the Philippines, but everything appeared to be focused in on business people, not tourists. My friends rather were under the impression of walking through a highly functional hub of a global economy network, instead of experiencing a city with various offers to tourists.
These two contrasting scenes exemplify the challenge of cities to host tourists as well as non-touristic guests. This challenge is actually far more difficult than one might assume. Already the fuzzy concept of a tourist points at the multifarious and different needs of people visiting a city for sightseeing etc. On the other hand, a non-touristic guest to a city could be anyone visiting for reasons ranging from business to leisure, from colleagues to friends and family. More recently, researchers in this field have started to characterize such visitors more broadly as “guests” in order to prevent clear-cut (but wrong) differentiations between tourists and other visitors, as well as longer-staying guests to a city (a controversial issue for instance in Berlin).
Here, I would like to stick with a simplified differentiation between tourists and work-related guests to describe one of the basic challenges for cities to host both types of visitors. The examples of Ha Noi and Metro Manila are quite ideal in contrasting two types of cities commonly found: the tourist city and the business city.
Ha Noi has been ranked one of the world best destinations on Trip Advisor last year. It is a key destination for a typical Vietnam vacation and hosts up to 3 million visitors each year. The country welcomed close to 8 million visitors in 2014. In comparison, the Philippines reach approximately 4.7 million visitors yearly, with roughly 1 million in Metro Manila. However, the key difference is that visitors stop by Metro Manila, because its airport is the main international hub to reach the Philippines (other international airports, such as Cebu, Clark, or Davao, are still very small in comparison). Although the metropolitan area features some of the most famous shopping malls in Asia and the world, there are not many traditional tourist attractions for which one would spend a couple of days in Metro Manila (the old Spanish “Walled City” Intramuros being one of the very few exceptions, but you are done with it after less than half a day). Thus, basically stopping in Metro Manila is currently rather a forced stop before heading to the numerous beautiful islands all over the Philippines. If the visit to Metro Manila is related to malls and casinos, it then also does not extend beyond a few days. In contrast, Ha Noi has a number of attractions which make visitors stay in the city. With international airports in Da Nang, Hue, and, especially, Ho Chi Minh City, there is not necessary a need to stop over/in Ha Noi, as there is in the case of Metro Manila.
Both cities perform the role of capital cities and are relevant economic centers. Nevertheless, Metro Manila is the undisputed business hub in the Philippines, while a similar role in Viet Nam is rather played by Ho Chi Minh City in the South. Ha Noi is quite strategically located to reach other tourist destinations in the northern and central parts of the country by road or train. In Metro Manila, air transport is the first choice of transport, which further decreases the need to actually experience the city beyond the airport’s departure gates.
Over the years, this situation has led Ha Noi to develop into a stereotypical tourist city, while Makati, Fort Bonifacio, Mandaluyong, or Quezon City within Metro Manila have developed into business centers. This all makes economically sense, as each of the two cities is putting their key potential to best use. However, there might be a lot of wasted potential due to this one-sidedness. Non-touristic visitors to Ha Noi are harassed by tourist service providers, while non-touristic services are limited. On the other side, touristic visitors to Metro Manila have a hard time convincing themselves to stay much longer in a metropolitan area, which appears to be so much business-focused with all the tourism paraphernalia mostly absent.
The resulting question for tourist cities such as Ha Noi and business cities such as those in Metro Manila is about diversified economic growth and the corresponding urban fabric. The vulnerability of and fluctuations in the tourism industry, as well as the Asian economy in general have painfully shown both Ha Noi and Metro Manila that the betting on one main sector is risky. Supporting also other sectors relates to shared responsibilities between government, private enterprises, and civil society vis-à-vis the attractiveness of such sectors. Usually the main sector should be strong enough to not depend on a government’s specific caretaking; instead, private enterprises commonly see sufficient incentives to engage and enhance that sector. For other sectors, however, there need to be some kind of incentive structure and support mechanisms to establish them as more than just the weak additions to an all-dominating sector.
Obviously, not every city entails the potentials to excel in every sector. There is nothing wrong with Venice or Siem Reap as key tourist destinations, nor is there anything wrong with Frankfurt or Bangalore as major business hubs. However, some of these cities have already made a strategic move in fostering also other sectors. And this makes sense as hardly any city is just the quintessential Disney World or Wall Street. The tricky task for city managers is, though, to start this diversification in a situation of growth and success of their main sector in order to address threats before they materialize – the stories of Spain (with an economic upheaval) and Egypt (with a political upheaval) are rather bad examples in this case.