By Jeffrey Tiberi June 2015
Early in the morning of my last day in Vietnam, I had the opportunity to speak to about 300 facility and students at the Hanoi Tourism College. My topic addressed the importance of history and culture in the tourism product. After eight action-packed days of traveling in Vietnam, I was filled with many thoughts and ideas. The sights, sounds, smells, history, and, most of all, the Vietnamese people, had captivated me and moved me towards exuberance. Unfortunately, the exuberance met reality when technical difficulties arose. The computers would not speak to each other. Some may call this “death by power point,” although that term is normally reserved for the audience of a poor presentation.
This was the first time I needed an interpreter in a presentation. We were, due to the computer problems, late in starting. The interpreter insisted that I begin without my power point presentation, as time was marching on. I complied by beginning with details about my background. As I spoke, my mind raced with thoughts about how could I possibly free-form the entire hour if the presentation failed to load? Fortunately, Mr. Viet came to the rescue again, and the slides magically appeared on the screen behind me.
Mr. Viet initiated this presentation because he recognizes the importance of history and culture. He spent time in Historic Virginia City and Nevada City when he visited Montana, and had asked me to include that example. The State of Montana purchased $6.5 million of historic assets in early 1997, and hired me later that year as the first CEO. Montana has been able to include these sites as an important part of their tourism product. Mr. Viet was in the towns during Halloween last year, and took part in a cultural event (Halloween) in a Ghost Town. As a hotelier, Mr. Viet understands that rooms get filled when history and culture come alive. As an aside, Mr. Viet exchanged his culture with me by taking me to see a Vietnamese Water Puppet show, explaining the history of this cultural treasure in detail before the performance began. Helping the students understand the economic connection was part of my presentation.
The concept of a Ghost a Town is difficult to understand in Vietnam. The borders of Montana include slightly more square kilometers than Vietnam’s borders, but Vietnam has 93 million people compared to our 1 million. That alone is a sufficient explanation of why.
My presentation focused on the value of history and culture and why it is important to preserve and conserve these resources. I tried to tie hotel occupancy rates to the protection of culture and history to put things into an economic view. Mr. Viet wanted students to see the big picture to encourage them to think about not only the hospitality services needed to accommodate tourists, but why tourists were coming to Vietnam.
This was last official duty of my time in Vietnam. Hearing the well thought out questions and seeing those students smile made this a special day for me.
The English language is famous because, as some who study these things note, it has up to 800,000 words, more than any other language on Earth. As I look back on my visit, I asked myself how to tell others about my time here. Many words come to mind, including enthralling, engrossing, charming, gripping, fascinating, entrancing, compelling, intriguing, compulsive, enchanting, riveting, captivating, beguiling, mesmerizing, hypnotizing, and spellbinding. The exuberance that flew for a moment early this morning returned very quickly. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I’d like to thank Mr. Viet for all his efforts organizing and conducting my time in Vietnam. I know that this is a lot of work, and I appreciate his efforts. I’d also like to thank the Mansfield Center for all their efforts to coordinate my time. Deena Mansour and Kelsey Stamm are great communicators and organizers and are a credit to the State of Montana.
I’d like to write a few things about the program that allowed me to visit Vietnam. Having worked overseas for nearly a decade, I’ve become aware of several international NGOs and how they function. The Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative, as managed by the University of Montana, Mansfield Center, ranks very high in my eyes. I had two children who served in the Peace Corps, and I visited both of them in-country. I interviewed 34 Peace Corps Volunteers during my visits, and have a basis for comparing programs. I must state that the YSEALI is well managed, focused, efficient, and provides great return on investment to taxpayers. It makes solid connections between peoples and helps connect the world. That’s what we need.