Positive Ecotourism Developments in Vietnam

Positive Ecotourism Developments in Vietnam

Vietnam Ecotourism

By Attila Woodward

 

Vietnam is a place of incredible natural beauty, rich cultural and historical heritage, hard working people and tremendous agricultural and intellectual richness. The country is blessed with a 3,250 km coastline of mostly pristine beaches, beautiful lagoons and awe- inspiring Deltas. Biodiversity is rich with an estimated 12,000 plant, 275 mammal, 800 bird, 180 reptile, 2,470 fish and over 5,500 insect species.(i)

 

New economic policies initiated in the late 1980’s, known as "Doi Moi" (renovation), opened the country to foreign investors and international travelers. From 1990 to 2005, inbound tourism has exploded with an average annual growth rate ranging from 11 to 14%. According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, in 2005, some 3.43 million inbound visitors came to the country. The World Tourism and Travel Council predicts that Vietnam will have the sixth highest tourism growth rate in the world between 2007 and 2016.(ii)

 

The sudden rush to capitalize on Vietnam's tourism assets is starting to threaten the beauty of the country. Surging tourism demand is placing a burden on the short supply of hotels in some destinations. Keen on this new economic opportunity, foreign and local companies are investing in multi billion-dollar mega-hotel projects that will put a strain on the environment.(iii)

 

There are, however, some positive developments in parts of the country. The Southern island of Phu Quoc is one such example. In March 2006, I visited the Phu Quoc with the goal of researching ecotourism initiatives.

 

Located some 30 miles from the Vietnamese mainland, in the Gulf of Thailand, at a length of 28 miles and slightly bigger than Singapore, Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest island. Beautiful beaches and one of the biggest virgin forests in Southern Vietnam make this a prime area for ecotourism. Bird life includes the puff throated babbler, stripe throated boo boo, green eared barbet, flower picker, and the lesser raquet tail drongo. There are over 50 species of butterfly and the list goes on.

 

Over the past three years, ambitious plans have been proposed to turn the island into a multi-use tourism destination, complete with golf courses, hundreds of hotels and resorts, and a new international airport capable of handling some 2.5 million passengers per year.(iv) There is an estimated 80,000 population currently living on Phu Quoc.

 

Three eco-resorts, Thang Loi, Bo Resort and Mango Bay, on the northwestern part of the island, are setting a different example of what could be done on the island. I visited Bo Resort and Mango Bay and discovered they are both low-density resorts using many common ecotourism concepts, including the use of solar power, replanting of endemic vegetation, and construction materials made from renewable sources such as earth, leaves, stone and bamboo. Mango Bay is taking ecotourism initiatives a step further by getting involved with large forest preservation projects, setting up a tourism school, and building a handicraft center for local communities.

 

Other nature based programs and ecotourism initiatives on the island include: developing eco-tourist maps and eco-tours that use existing park resources, eco-trails, documentation of local flora and fauna, and an analysis of ecotourism impacts on the environment. An NGO called Wild Life at Risk (WAR)(vi) is also working with the government of Kien Giang province on a new initiative that proposes establishing a trade group with codes of conduct for new hotel and resort projects on the island. These will include construction and beach policies, local community involvement, as well as marine and forest conservation.

 

Vietnam is at a difficult crossroads between economic development that will bring prosperity to its people and preservation initiatives that maintain the rich beauty and natural heritage of the country. On my last trip to Phu Quoc, I was pleased to learn of new initiatives that partner NGOs, local government and private businesses (mainly eco-resorts) working towards a more sustainable future – a positive development amid the distress the tourism boom is causing.

 

Attila Woodward is a Master’s of Tourism Administration candidate at the George Washington University. He has lived and worked in Vietnam from 1996 – 2004 and has traveled to Phu Quoc seven times between 1997 and 2006.

 

NOTES:

(i) Asian Productivity Organization (APO) Report (Page 251)

(ii) WTTC Vietnam Country Report (2006)

(iii) Saigon Times Daily, "Dalat’s huge resort project gets closer to reality," May 4, 2006, Issue No. 2681, Page 3

(iv) Airline Industry Information, December 28, 2005 issue.

 

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