Date of Award

8-2011

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Geography

Major Professor

Micheline van Riemsdijk

Committee Members

Ronald Kalafsky, Lydia Pulsipher

Abstract

Vietnam is undergoing economic transition from a command economy to an economy with greater market characteristics. Transition is fundamentally reshaping the country through economic liberalization and increased exposure to foreign markets. The Vietnamese are developing institutions necessary for market growth and international tourists are arriving in ever-larger numbers. This research project is a case study of businesses that provide guided motorbike tours and evaluates the businesses based on two criteria: as a study of institutional growth during economic transition and as an examination of tourism production through guide interpretation. The author interviewed and observed sixteen guides in Vietnam—from Dalat in the Central Highlands to Tam Coc, just south of Hanoi—during two months of fieldwork research in summer 2010.

The study identifies a variety of institutional types, from informal guides to formalized businesses with a high degree of support from market institutions. Though market activities are becoming increasingly complex and sophisticated, many services remain informal. The study also investigates how guides create products for tourists through interpretation. The guides draw upon the landscape, people and culture in Vietnam, and their own personal narratives to create a tourism product that they call the “Real Vietnam.” The guides sell access to Vietnam, and tourists purchase a sense of intimate knowledge of their destination. Together with tourists, guides participate in place-making interpretation that utilizes both the real geography of Vietnam and the imaginary geographies of foreign visitors. The research reveals the ways in which actors at the local scale adapt to large-scale processes, and in turn influence the course of economic transition in Vietnam and the content of international tourism.