03/04/2017 14:20:00

Travelling smart in Vietnam

With huge numbers of both overseas and domestic tourists now travelling in Vietnam, ensuring sustainability within the tourism industry is vital. Nguyen Duc explores.

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In Vietnam and across the world, the environmental cost of travel has become a subject of hot debate. While local communities and the wider economy undoubtedly reap the benefits of tourism, there is a darker side in the negative impact it can have on the natural and cultural environment. 

Travellers who can see damage to the environment they are visiting may wonder whether their trip can be justified. In response, tour operators, hospitality managers, property owners, golf courses, airlines and environmentalists are calling for a global move towards responsible tourism, with efforts geared towards benefitting local communities and focusing on wildlife conservation and environmental protection.

The concept of responsible or sustainable tourism is defined as “tourism that respects both local people and the traveller, cultural heritage and the environment”. It seeks to provide people with an exciting and educational holiday that is also of benefit to the people of the host country with minimal environmental impact.

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Travelling smart means travelling responsibly

Along with world trends, Vietnam’s tourism industry saw positive growth in 2016 with the emergence of four sectors: sport and adventure tourism, water tourism, cultural experience tourism and individual tourism.

Stepping into 2017, changes are evident in the trend that can be attributed to climate change. Governments and organisations around the world realise the important role of sustainable development in all economic sectors, especially in tourism. In Vietnam, tourism development in the coming years will focus on sustainability, community links and environmental protection - offering unique personal experiences whilst seeking opportunities to develop the economy and living standards of local communities and protect the environment.

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“One of the most effective ways of tackling climate change and promoting ecology is to help local residents earn a sustainable income through setting up and operating responsible tourism, community tourism and ecotourism. These types of tourism oriented towards sustainable development, cultural preservation and natural protection are being implemented in areas such as the Mekong Delta,” said Nguyen Ngoc Bich, director of Mekong Rustic.

Community tourism is well suited to developing countries like Vietnam as it involves relatively low running costs. While helping preserve historical relics, cultural traditions and customs, local communities can earn a stable and sufficient income.

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Responsible tourism is fast becoming a popular concept across the country. Various local policies, master plans and projects have prioritised responsible travel in their long-term strategies to guide future business directions. Throughout the country, changes can be seen within the tourism managing operations of provinces, destinations and communities with a move towards activities supporting the sustainable development of both tourism and the living standards of each region.

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However, according to Nguyen Thuy Duong, vice director of Eviva Tour Vietnam, despite efforts to establish a wider selection of community-based tours, more needs to be done to promote these tours to local destination management companies, who are the main channel to market the products to foreign tourists. Furthermore, VNAT has an important role to play in advocating eco-tourism products both at home via local travel companies and globally via international tourism fairs, such as ITB in Berlin.

As well as helping local communities to develop sustainably, these products can serve to enhance the diversity and reputation of Vietnam's tourism industry. To achieve the set goals, it is vital to create a harmonious industry that draws on the strength, knowledge and experience of government agencies, local authorities, travel companies and individuals working in the industry. 

Expert opinions - travelling smart

Timeout talks to tourism experts on the current situation of Vietnam’s responsible tourism sector. 

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Henry Vu - Strategy manager of APEC-GROUP

Vietnam currently lacks a long-term tourism development plan or strategy. The infrastructure and facilities to support a move towards greener tourism are also somewhat inadequate. Provinces currently active in green tourism include Hue and Phu Yen, however it is still in its early stages. 

Miquel Angel - General manager of M&Q Tourism & Hospitality Services

Shortcomings in the linkage between ministries is currently delaying all process on guidelines and sustainable measures. This is a problem in many destinations - we just need to look at Phu Quoc, where concrete blocks have been constructed without control and without environmental or waste management policies in place. Other coastal and highlands areas rely on local provincial entities with little relevant knowledge. Furthermore there is a lack of transparency, with the plan until 2020 and 2030 not being disclosed by the public sector, as has been the case in the past.

Hoang Viet - Climate change coordinator at WWF Vietnam

Climate change greatly impacted agricultural production in Vietnam last year, with a heavy drought in the Mekong Delta, South Central Coast and Highland provinces. Tourism is one factor that can greatly influence the environment. Those within the industry face great challenges in finding good solutions to develop sustainably while meeting the increasing demands on travelling of both local and foreign tourists. Developing responsible tourism, community tourism and green tourism will help local communities preserve their cultural and natural treasures, and improve the living conditions in these areas. We are currently seeing hot sustainable trends in Vietnam and around the world. 

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Pham Hong Long - Dean at Faculty of Tourism Studies, Vietnam National University in Hanoi

With tourism geared towards sustainable development in 2017, I believe that Vietnam will see a year of blooming community tourism, enabling tourists to experience the local lifestyles and cultural traditions and customs while minimising their negative effects on the social and natural environment and helping support the local economy. 

Nguyen Ngoc Bich - Director of Mekong Rustic

Prestigious European and American travel agencies consider responsible tourism a must for all tourism products, especially those within Southeast Asia and Asia. For a tourism product to be responsible, it must have responsible guides, responsible use of natural resources and responsible modes of travel. 

Pham Ha - CEO of Adventura Travel

Acting as a local, responsible tour operator, we aim to create better places for people to visit and learn from, and for locals to live in. By taking measured steps to build corporate and social responsibility into every aspect of our business, we will be able to reduce the negative effects of the travel industry on our environment, and accentuate the positive impact of tourism by working to preserve destinations for future generations. 

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Truong Hien - Managing director of Sisters Tours Vietnam 

We believe that smart travel should include not only comfort factors, high standards of accommodation and dining, but also depth of understanding and immersion into local cultures. People don’t just want to see – they want to participate and enrich their life through experiences. Through smart travel visitors can hear different languages, try different foods, and do things they've never done before - all in the safe environment provided by the tour.  

Nguyen Duc Quynh - Executive assistant manager of Furama Resort Danang

To attract tourists, we must develop sustainable and high-standard tourism services before promoting our products. Currently Vietnam only meets tourists' demands in part - offering a wealth of natural treasures while lacking regulations and standards for services, conduct and sanitation. To develop a sustainable tourism industry, we must take time to create quality services and products.

By Duc Hanh

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