Reminders in boom times

The surge in visitor arrivals into the country is coming as an urgent call to preserve the very things that endear Vietnam to both its residents and guests

Halong Bay’s pristine environment comes under threat from more visitors and cruises

As Vietnam’s tourism industry continues to boom, it is essential measures are put in place to preserve the country’s rich heritage and bounty of natural beauty, tourism leaders warn.

Halong Bay’s pristine environment comes under threat from more visitors and cruises

According to figures from Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), the country welcomed more than 12.9 million international arrivals in 2017 – a 29.1 per cent year-on-year increase. More than 73 million domestic visitors were also recorded in 2017. Revenue from tourism rose by 25.2 per cent in 2017 to US$23 billion, accounting for seven percent of GDP.

Dinh Ngoc Duc, head of VNAT’s marketing department, predicted the number of foreign tourists in 2018 will increase to between 15 and 17 million.

Tour operators claim the rise in part is connected with a major marketing push from the government in 2017, which saw an action plan to develop tourism as an economic pillar issued. This includes creating more favourable conditions for travel operators, said Pham Ha, CEO of Luxury Travel Vietnam.

Nguyen Duc Quynh, deputy director general of Furama Resort Da Nang, added the central shift of focus on the tourism sector has also triggered a sense of urgency to preserve what tourists flock to the country for its “natural beauty and heritage”.

Added Nguyen: “The acknowledgement helps the government pay more attention to the preservation of Vietnam’s nature and heritage by introducing laws on the conservation of these issues.”

For example, the government has halted controversial development that threatened the environment at Son Tra Nature Reserve area, and plans are being mooted to introduce building regulations that promote sustainable development and encourage design to be in keeping with its surroundings.

Last year, the traditional musical performance of Bai Choi, from Central Vietnam, was recognised by UNESCO as the country’s 12th non-material heritage. A swathe of EU-funded training programmes have also been rolled out to raise service standards in the industry, and a new Tourism Law, addressing issues such as regulations on star rating, accommodation and tourism products, was introduced.

Anton Jurgens, general manager of Exo Travel Vietnam, said: “With increased footfall, the country needs to promote everything that makes it stand out, be it natural beauty, heritage, culture or food. This can have a damaging effect on the environment and society’s perception of heritage, for example. But if managed well, it can enhance a country’s sense of pride. In general, Vietnam is doing a good job.”

Despite these steps, the industry claims it is imperative more efforts are pumped into preserving Vietnam’s natural and cultural charm in both the short- and long-term.

Luxury Travel’s Ha said: “Among the challenges is the importance of adapting tourism growth without losing sight of the environment and the locals. It is important to develop tourism in a sustainable manner, conserving and promoting cultural heritage and values of the people, protecting the environment and nature, and maintaining security and safety.”

He added the UNESCO site of Halong Bay is “suffering” under the tourism influx, with hundreds of cruises taking their toll on resources daily.

“The rapid increase in the number of visitors to Vietnam in the short-term is putting the industry under pressure, and attention should be paid to the upgrade of transport infrastructure, including seaports in the context of increasing demand for cruise tourism,” he said.

Jurgens added that one of the major issues Vietnam faces is the unchecked development, especially along the coast. He cited the proposed construction of a cable car at Phong Nha – home to Son Doong Cave, the world’s largest – as another example.

Said Jurgens: “Vietnam is still emerging and relatively new to tourism. With enormous potential to become the go-to destination in Southeast Asia, it is imperative VNAT is adequately funded and supported in order to promote and steer the industry in a sustainable and responsible direction.”

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