Vietnam plans to continue to develop its billion-dollar tourism industry but with an emphasis on ‘responsible travel’. In a nutshell that means developing tourism while protecting the country’s natural resources and environment and helping to alleviate poverty in disadvantaged areas.
“Community-based and socially responsible travel development has always been a corner-stone of Vietnam’s tourism industry,” said Tran Chien Thang, deputy minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, speaking at a recent seminar on Vietnam’s responsible travel development, held by the ministry’s Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) and the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) in Hanoi.
This Responsible Travel programme will focus on training private companies in environmental management, involving the poor in such companies’ activities, supporting travel companies to encourage responsible travel and cooperating with local authorities to protect the environment.
“Vietnam received 250,000 foreign tourists in 1990 and the figure increased to 3.8 million in 2009 and an expected 4.2 million in 2010. However, the increase in tourist quantity also means the country’s tourism environment is deteriorating and most poor people cannot benefit from tourism development,” said Pham Quang Hung, head of VNAT’s International Cooperation Department.
“Responsible travel is quite a new concept in Vietnam, but has for years been developed successfully by many foreign countries,” said Monica Oliveros, a representative from SNV Nepal, where a responsible travel programme has helped that country reduce poverty and protect the environment.
In Nepal, 70 responsible travel activities have been created, mostly by travel companies, which have resulted in employment for hundreds of thousands of people from impoverished backgrounds.
Capturing the eco-friendly dollar
Oliveros said two thirds of US and Australian tourists and 90 per cent of British tourists were interested in environmental protection, a point which tourism destinations’ authorities should focus on. Some 70 per cent of US, British and Australian tourists said they were ready to pay $150 more for a two week stay in a hotel that protects the environment.
“Tourists’ awareness of travel has changed. The number of tourists coming to countries with responsible travel development is on the rise,” said Paul Steven, another SNV Nepal representative.
Nguyen Van Sieu, head of Vietnam Institute for Tourism Development Research, said such tourism models in Hoi An, Hanoi or Hue were developing independently without being combined in a large-scale movement nationwide and largely intermixed with travel companies’ tours. He said most local travel companies and authorities in tourism destinations did not understand much about responsible travel.
“Consequently, many tourism destinations are seriously damaged. This can badly influence poor people, who want to live off tourism services,” says Sieu. For example, Ba Ria-Vung Tau province is an ideal tourism destination for local and foreign tourists. However, its environment, especially the sea, is being destroyed by rubbish and polluted water.
According to the province’s Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, only 300 of 1,600 cubic metres of waste water daily discharged by hotels, restaurants and resorts is treated.
Only a third of the province’s tourism-related enterprises have waste water treatment systems in place. The province’s Saigon-Binh Chau tourism area was recently rumbled for burying its rubbish and discharging waste water into the environment (apparently since 2002). .
Tourists prefer clean and green
According to a SNV survey on Vietnam’s major tourism destinations, including Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Halong and Hue, more and more foreign tourists are concerned about pollution and noise levels.
Some 97 per cent of interviewed tourists said they were ready to pay more for a holiday that was environmentally-friendly and resulted in increased net benefits for poor people.
The survey results show that hospitality was what attracted the most foreign tourists. For example, while Hanoi received the least gratification from foreign tourists, Sapa ranked top among the surveyed localities in pleasing foreign tourists.
Douglas Hainsworth, a tourism consultant to environmental projects led by SNV and the EU, said Vietnam needed to create opportunities for the poor to access tourism training and design poverty reduction tours in rural and mountainous areas.
According to Sieu, as part of its national tourism strategy for 2011-2020, the government will underline responsible travel development as the biggest priority for the industry. “A project for responsible travel development in Vietnam will be built soon. It will be implemented with the help from international organisations,” Hung said.
“Responsible travel can bring big benefits to companies, tourists and locals. While tourists can enrich their cultural and social experience via their direct activities with locals, thus helping them improve their behaviour towards the environment. Responsible travel can also help locals take more pride in their own cultural traits and lifestyles.”
At a recent seminar on responsible travel in Hue, 30 local travel companies in Hanoi, Hoi An, Hue and Quang Tri agreed to cooperate on a SNV-backed Vietnam-based responsible travel campaign, which would run from May until December this year.