Nation targets sustainable tourism

VietNamNet Bridge – Tourism can have a devastating impact on fragile environments and local communities if unplanned or not properly managed, heard a conference on responsible tourism held in the capital city yesterday.

Tourists visit fruit gardens in southern Can Tho City’s My Khanh Tourist Village.

Discussions on challenges to achieving a sustainable tourism sector in Viet Nam drew the participation of a wide range of experts.

Dr Ha Van Sieu, director of the Institute of Tourism Development and Research, warned participants about the threat of mass tourism, which led to uneven development, pollution and the over-exploitation of natural and cultural resources.

Katherine Muller-Marin, a representative from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), said more efforts should be made to «ensure tourism benefits can also be reinvested to preserve heritage sites».

According to Hoang Thi Vuong, team leader of the technical working group under the Tourism Steering Committee in eight northwestern provinces, as community-based tourism was being increasingly developed to raise local income in these provinces, tour operators were encouraged to bring more social and economic benefits to local communities while respecting the environment and local culture.

The Tourism Association in northern Lao Cai Province’s popular tourism destination of Sa Pa, for example, has recruited local people to work in the sector after providing them with appropriate skills through staff training programmes.

Vuong said about 70 per cent of the association’s employees were local people, adding that the number of community-based tourism sites in northwestern Viet Nam was increasing, with 54 sites set up across the region so far.

These sites are working to offer more services for tourists, including homestays, local community shows and improvements in sales of food and souvenirs.

However, Vuong said most tourism activities were developed by provincial authorities and lacked input from more specialised consultants, resulting in a considerable lack of quality and diversity in tourism products.

She added that there was still a lack of participation from big tour operators and enterprises, while co-operation between the eight provinces themselves needed to be strengthened.

The concept of a sustainable tourism sector, first introduced in the nation’s tourism development strategy three years ago, aims to maximise the economic, social and environmental benefits of tourism while minimising the costs to destinations.

According to the Programme on Environmental and Social Development of Tourism Capacity (ESRT), tourism continues to achieve strong growth in Viet Nam with total foreign arrivals during the first nine months of the year reaching 4.8 million. This reflected growth of 13 per cent over the same period last year, despite the global economic slowdown.

According to Kai Partale, ESRT programme’s tourism advisor, a 2010 AC Nielsen survey of 400 international and domestic visitors across Viet Nam revealed that a high proportion of travellers sought to participate in responsible travel activities while on holiday, with 97 per cent having expressed their willingness to pay more for an environmentally-friendly holiday that resulted in increased benefits for poor people.

Travellers said they were willing to participate even when the costs were higher.

Up to 70 per cent of tourists surveyed showed interest in spending «responsible dollars» on the preservation of the local environment, while nearly 50 per cent were willing to pay to experience local culture and heritage and 45 per cent expressed interest in supporting a local charity.

The conference was the first in what is planned as an annual event addressing responsible tourism. It was held with the support of the European Union-funded ESRT programme.

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Date / Fecha: 05/11/12

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