Sustainability a top tourism concern

15:00 | 22/11/2018
Sustainable tourism has been receiving increasing attention from the academia and businesses due to uncertainty, environmental pollution, and the delivery of uncreative tourism products, as well as fragmented, temporary, and inadequate services. Miquel Angel P. Martorell, general manager at Oakwood Worldwide, shared with VIR his views on challenges and trends in the tourism and hospitality industry in the coming decades.
sustainability a top tourism concern
Vietnam has all the endowments of a tourism hotspot – it is time to preserve them

The buzzword of sustainability has appeared in Vietnam several years ago, and while it might seem recent, it possesses a long history in many other countries and continents.

sustainability a top tourism concern
Miquel Angel P. Martorell, general manager at Oakwood Worldwide

As a fact, tourism development started after the doi moi reforms in the late eighties when the country started to open up to the world, but long before those days many centenary hotels existed in Vietnam, with several between Hanoi and Hue to Ho Chi Minh City where the walls were witness to historical events and famous visitors are in their actual 2018 promotions.

After living in Vietnam for nearly two decades, working in tourism and hospitality at several companies, I do not feel complacent about how development have been carried out as the sustainable scenarios drawn up by the legislature are very different from the reality in several aspects.

After living in several destinations across Vietnam and working in four different ASEAN countries, aside from my home in Europe, I must admit that sustainability is not everyone’s shared priority. Several potential destinations are heavily polluted, while many others are being destroyed with human constructions that are not subject to sufficient environmental supervision, and the seas and beaches are covered in litter at several islands and coastal destinations, while the mountains and highlands are covered in plastic and garbage accumulated over the years.

This is a reality: waste management is not one of Vietnam’s priorities, and neither is planning for sustainable future development. The plans and interactions between officials and the public sector are not up to the standards of the 21st century and private sector moves on private ambition, which frequently clashes with natural conservation due to its lack of regard for the preservation of the land we will leave to our sons and daughters.

Mountains of untreated garbage can be spotted in Phu Quoc Island, instead of clean white sandy beaches, while Vung Tau’s beaches are choking in plastic and residues. The railways from Hanoi to Lao Cai are trailed by bags and polypropylene, and floating objects welcome visitors to the UNESCO heritage site of Halong Bay. These are only a few examples, the issue is far more severe and shows no signs of stopping, presenting the urgent need for us all to start “thinking green.”

The Vietnam Urban Planning and Development Association mentioned recently that sustainable urban planning should be based on the potential, advantages, and challenges that coastal provinces will face in the future, which is totally understandable.

The capacity of the natural environment, the pace of urban growth, and tourism development must all be evaluated carefully, one of their architects mentioned, as land must be protected for future generations. The mentioned areas necessitate linked action between the private and public sectors, as several environmental wrong-doings have been detected.

Furthermore, ecotourism spots in Vietnam are rarely protected and professionally managed, similar to the national parks, which often appear in the media due to infractions and illegal and doubtful activities linked to them – while it should be the total opposite. These places should be hotspots of both local and international tourism, with the premise of leaving nothing but footprints behind and taking away no more than precious memories.

The 67-hectare Chi Lang stork island tourism site in Thanh Mien district in the northern province of Hai Duong is a very clear example of how tourists can be captivated by the scenery and romantic atmosphere. Birds travelling from China, Myanmar, India, and Nepal arriving to the stork island remind me of the birds arriving to the Catalan marshlands from Northern Europe during the cold weather or the flocks returning from Africa during hot summer days.

Other examples of sustainability might be Na Hang Reservoir in Tuyen Quang, Muc Lake in Thanh Hoa, Chieu Lake in Son La or Quan Son and Tuy Lai lakes in My Duc district near Hanoi that have the potential to become the new, un-spoilt Halong bays of Vietnam. Development in these areas turns far larger focus on sustainable development, promising a longer future for boat trips, islets visit, tours to watch water lilies in full bloom, and conserving local gastronomy like corn wine or grilled fish, as well as the impressive minority stilt houses. There are a few trends to consider and several business lines emerging in the coming decades that deserve the attention of those looking to contribute to tourism and hospitality:

Fluvial tourism or river tourism will be increasing: Red River and Saigon River tours will come in fashion as rivers will lose their sole role of cargo transport and rise as a rich tourism tool. They should not merely be places to dispose garbage or untreated wastewater. Vietnam has 2,360 rivers and over 42,000 kilometres of transport area, which harbour huge potential.

National parks will be linked with private entities, which will improve their management, resources, attractiveness, potential, and share opportunities with private operators with international experience. If done right, this could support the younger generations to learn to love nature and respect the surrounding flora and fauna in a fully sustainable way.

Homestays and rural tourism will be increasing, as visitors are turning towards human relations more than obsolete monster hotels of marble and concrete.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will affect Vietnamese destinations in a remarkable way. Smart tourism and 4.0 agricultural practices will help us to evaluate environmental factors, combating pollution and safeguarding our natural resources in a smarter, more connected fashion. Conservation centres will benefit from new applications which will do away with paper documents, and make data readily available for all through mobile connections. Cruise destinations are still not properly managed: the 493 cruise ship visits in 2018 made Vietnam the fourth most-visited country in Asia. However, the state monopoly on providing services to cruise lines provides reduced chances for social benefit and does not contribute to the growth of local communities. A proper bidding process for the whole private sector to provide supporting services to cruisers is a must, as the more than 80,000 international visitors deserve much more than a visit to the reduced options offered by state businesses.

In conclusion, environment protection will produce a major impact in the near future, as sustainable development is a must, requiring multi-sectoral co-operation. Human approach, interaction between visitors and the area, as well as destination’s carrying capacity, the lack of respect for the land and green vision are several key points not to be ignored. Otherwise, we will pay the price in the not-too-distant future.

Based on MasterCMS Ultimate Edition Ver 2.8 2018