Vietnam may have to slow tourism flow

HANOI, 16 March 2018: Establishing viable conservation measures to ensure World Heritage Halong Bay can cope with the fast expansion of tourism is now the major challenge.

The bay’s popularity with international tourists will ultimately put considerably pressure on the World Heritage site, officials warned, 12 March, during a one-day forum with media and tourism officials.

Sustainable tourism development at Vietnam’s world natural heritage sites was the focus of the forum hosted in Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital. 

The event was one of just many activities under the guidance of the Halong Bay – Cat Ba Alliance (HLCBA) Initiative, launched by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Addressing the event, IUCN acting country director in Vietnam, Jake Brunner, said tourism development helped to preserve and promote the cultural heritage values and natural resources, which in turn boosted nation’s economic development.

But participants warned that world heritage sites could be plagued with ‘overtourism’ that would ultimately degrade natural and cultural attractions.

“The overdevelopment of tourism in several coastal provinces results in numerous negative impacts, particularly in the nearby and buffer zones of nature reserves and world heritage sites,” the country director warned.

The audience made up of media representatives, tourism managers, experts, and international organisations identified the impacts of tourism development on the environment and the ecosystem in the Halong – Cat Ba site. The focus was on recommending measures for sustainable tourism development in the area.

Halong Bay is the host destination for the ASEAN Tourism Forum in mid-January 2019, when around 300 international travel buyers and 500 travel content suppliers and hotels from the 10 member countries of ASEAN will meet.

Halong has a wide variety of star-rated hotels, an impressive convention and exhibition centre and by January 2019 it will open its own airport. These are facilities that suggest the bay is fast expanding to meet tourism demand.

During the event, breakout groups discussed issues related to tourism development in Vietnam’s heritage sites, covering planning on infrastructure and services; treatment of wastewater, managing cruise ships; and preserving nature and biodiversity.

Experts and representatives from international organisations highlighted the initiatives and experience in sustainable tourism of Vietnam and other nations.

They also proposed solutions to sustainable tourism development in the natural heritage sites, with a focus on developing  action plans and research on carrying capacity for each of the World Heritage destinations to set the parameters to control tourism flow.

It may mean additional travel taxes to reduce visits, and stringent environmental rules for boats on Halong bay to ensure all waste and garbage returns to port for treatment and recycling.

Destination management will become a priority that is linked to how infrastructure is developed or restricted to control the tourism flow.

Vietnam is targeting 17 to 20 million international visitors by 2020 and 80 million domestic travellers.