In recent years, Vietnam has taken great steps in the development of tourism. Tourism is promoted widely by the government because it provides the potential for job opportunities, thus producing income for the country and became a source of revenue for the government. However, the tourism industry can also be seen as a critical force, causing negative outcomes such as congestion, the loss of natural environmental and landscapes and the cultural degradation (Bui, 2009). These problems are becoming an issue towards tourism industry of Vietnam due to the lack of effective planning and proper planning of tourism development. Tourism is claimed to be one of the key elements towards the country’ economy development with particular attention being placed on infrastructure development, human resources, environmental issues, product development and marketing strategies by the Tourism Master Plan 2001 -2010 (Vietnam Embassy, 2011). Yet, evidence demonstrates a critical need for identifying sustainable ways of using the tourism resources by avoiding a voracious exploitation of the country’s patrimony as well as to ensure the beneficial trade exchange in the international marketplace and substantial long-term socio-economic benefits. This report seeks to explore how the sustainable tourism development in Vietnam affects its economic, social and environmental with an emphasis placed on the challenges that appear along this process.
2.0 Overview of sustainable tourism in Vietnam
Vietnam has a high market potential in the tourism industry with foreign investors showing interest in the country (Mok and Lam, 2000). The introduction of an economic reform policy, doi moi encouraged the establishment of normal political with other countries by lifting the restrictions on investment by the private sector. As a result, Vietnam has experienced a massive growth in the service industry since the Asian financial crisis in 1998. The improving visa policy, the limited transportation networks and the restricted marketing (i.e. tourism promotion budget around S$1m about a tenth the size of the budgets of Singapore) are the three main considerations of accessibility to Vietnam (Suntikul, Butler and Airney, 2008).
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According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (2010), international visitors to Vietnam reached 449,570 arrivals in 2010, increasing by 19% over the same period last year. The total international arrivals in 2010 reached 5,049,855 representing a 34.8% growth. In terms of market share, China was ranked top, with the largest influx of visitors into Vietnam in 2010, while the South Korea and Japan, at second and third, also dominated the market. Such a number exceeds the carrying capacity in Vietnam, including both its tourist infrastructure and environment and risks serious overcrowding in some cities of attraction e.g. Hue, environmental pollution, degradation of monuments and the collapse of the tourist industry as the result of unsustainable tourism development (Bui, 2009).
The ever-increasing annual number of international and domestic tourists coming to Vietnam has been a significant encourage to the industry in its efforts to promote tourism business development in a sustainable manner. (Luong, 2005b)
3.0 Issues faced in sustaining tourism development in Vietnam
3.1 Weak institutional practices
Vietnam tourism development is dominated by small-medium enterprise (SMEs) that facing weak institutional practice, low financial capacity and lack of attention about environmental conservation and protection (Bui, 2009). These firms are a distinct group with diverse of needs and associated impacts. The problem in infrastructure and improper solid waste practices and sewage produced from the hundreds of tourism enterprises and the mass market of visitors has caused a serious environment pollution and degradation of cultural heritage. Also, there is a lack of clear stands and procedures to examine its strategies in the development of tourism and policies planning. As a result, the VNAT had to reconsider many of its development targets segments for Vietnam tourism industry in the 21st century.
The urge to earn foreign exchange and the lack of a strong institutional fundamental to effectively manage environmental resources had led to many example of unsustainable development (Thang, 2004). The domestic private and international sectors have been supported the development of sustainable tourism in Vietnam because it believed that this new market-oriented mechanism brings with it economic benefits. It can be showed as the participation of the local and international stakeholders in sustainable tourism development is only concentrated in the some popular tourist attraction for e.g. SAPA which believed to generate extra revenue by ensuring a clean, green and attractive tourism destination image. Meanwhile, Vietnam government tried to devote its attention to the management of the environment because the fears a loss of political control over the tourism industry due to its rapid development. Yet, the capacity at district government is very low to cater to need in the huge market of sustainable tourism development.
Despite that, each group of stakeholders has different views and concern on their responsibility towards the future of tourism depending on the amount of investment that they spend in each tourism destination. SMEs are often seemed to be more concerned towards their return in investment than the overall impact of their operations on the environment and socio-economic sphere (Cooper, 1997; Briassoulis, 2002; Thang 2004). The participation of SMEs are crucial in creating the modalities in strengthen institutional practice and management that enable sustainable tourism development to success. Adoption of sustainable tourism project requires strong institutional frameworks that can overcome shortage in the potential of the market to ease tourism enterprises especially the SMEs towards more sustainable business practices
Other than that, one of the challenges is that the policies and law system are inadequate, inconsistent and not in accordance with the reality of tourism development; there is also a lack of understanding and acknowledgement of international rules and principles (Lloyd, 2003). The weak institutional framework for the tourism industry in Vietnam has characterized by a fairly complex system of policies, laws, ordinances and regulation, issued by line ministries, agencies and provincial governments (Lloyd, 2003; Nhân Dân, 2006). It is stated that many existing laws and ordinances are incomplete, not only in terms of coverage but also in terms of lacking documents to guide for implementation (VNAT, 2005; Sam et al., 2001; Nhân Dân, 2006).
Thus, it is crucial to strengthen the need for sustainable tourism planning and management by emphasizing its structure and processes, that has not yet been fully explored and understood in many developing countries e.g. Vietnam. The strategies for sustainable tourism development made by developing countries often tend to be encumbered by the lack of understanding of the complexity of the tourism industry by stakeholders and a lack of strong institutional frameworks needed for their implementation (Bui, 2000). Thus, the corporation of an incorporated tourism development approach for a region emphasized that sustainable tourism development needs a well established institutional practice that enables the participation and co-ordination of stakeholders.
3.2 Threats to the local community in terms of social-economy factor
3.2.1 Employment for locality
The Vietnam tourism industry can also have less positive impacts in providing job opportunities for local communities. The tourism industry might reduce of jobs when national parks, forest, rivers or even rice fields become part of the tourism product/experience whereby local government have set buffer zones in many tourist resorts such as national parks, natural reserves and monuments in order to protect them. As a result, local people are forced to move out of, and thus restricted their living practices in these areas. When tourism development displaces and affects local villagers in this way, it can destroy their traditional employment practices (De, 2002; Ha, 2005). It is worthless to reduce labor costs in some tourism-related services since the private sector has made considerable effort to increase the efficiency of tourism business operation.
Another important feature of Vietnam’s tourism industry is that it is differentiated by small- and medium-scale tourism enterprise. Even though the country has taken actions to decentralize its diversity products and management system, yet the increased involvement of privately owned small enterprises in the tourism industry has resulted in slow employment growth. As most of these enterprises are in family based, thus their overall contribution to national employment has been small.
3.2.2 Arise of income equality in rural areas
From the social issues perspective, rapid population growth, inadequate basis services of education and health care and social stratification have emerged widely in Vietnam even though the country has made much effort to use its economic success for social improvements (Bui, 2009). According to Kokko and Tingvall (2005), Vietnam has faced the rising of income inequality over the past decade because some regions are improving and growing tremendously faster than others: average income is rising faster in the cities that have higher concentration of tourists than in rural areas whereby there are significant differences between incomes in lowland areas compared with the remote and mountainous areas which has less concentration of tourist.
Another example to look into this issue is through a popular tourism destination in Vietnam, Kim Bong Village is capable to attract the attention of tourist because of its scenic riverside landscape and traditional carpentry workshops. Yet, visitors only tend to stop by in Kim Bong village and undertake a short trip. Despite the tourism potential of the village, Kim Bong does not benefit from the development of tourism and is hindered by the underdeveloped infrastructure. As a result, a high incidence of poverty and a lack of decent employment opportunities are direct consequences of these drawbacks.
3.2.3 Lack of skilled human resources
The Asian-Tour project ToR highlighted that there is a lack of professional and skilled staff working in tourism sector. While it is easy to start working in the tourism sector, the long term success depends on the satisfaction of the tourist as client. The problem is especially arising when working with poor local communities, who show a lot of hospitality but do not really know how to serve international visitors. The cultural and language differences are constraining the tourism development in Vietnam.
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Despite, Vietnam having more than 60 tourism training centers that offer university, vocational and postgraduate training, and many graduates from these centers fail to satisfy their employers’ requirements (Canh 2002; Luong, 2005b). The quality of tour operators, tour guides and hotels operating staff are at bare minimum of acceptable service levels for foreign tourist which reflected the poor quality standard of tourism training programmes offered in Vietnam. Due to the teaching standard and training programmes vary in each training institution has resulted a considerable of inconsistency in the used of textbooks and curricula. Tour companies claimed that tourism graduates are often poorly equipped with the skills and knowledge they needed in working in the sector, whereby there are insufficient historical and cultural understanding, lack of hospitality skills and poor language proficiency (Vietnam Cultural Profile, 2005). It is stated that the lack of qualified local tour guides who speak Asian languages such as Japanese, Chinese and Korean is of particular concern to the VNAT, given their current focus on this area because tourist from China, South Korean and Japan are the top three countries that have visited Vietnam in 2010. For this reason, the industry has to recruit skillful tour guides from outside the sector and trained in post.
3.2.4 Lack of participation of local communities
Despite that, the local communities and their leader are rarely included in the strategy, practices and policy making processes relating to sustainable tourism development project which affects their access and business activities to tourism resources. The level of participation of tourism enterprises and the local communities in the control of operation in tourism activities is constrain (De, 2002; Ha, 2005; Dinh et al., 2006). Despite that, however, from the local community’ point of view, a development and institutional practices might result in a loss of access to tourism resources and unfavorable social activities in the local economy. (Lipscombe & Thwaites, 2003). It can be seen that the major constraints to sustainable tourism development in Vietnam is due to the insufficient of communication and co-operation between various authorities, especially with central government developing policies for tourism planning, marketing and promotion of tourism.
3.3 Week awareness of planning and development of tourism facilities
It is undeniable that the tourism industry has contributed massively to the economic growth of Vietnam, but in return it has also caused environmental degradation, biodiversity deterioration and the other adverse impacts (Canh, 2002; Lam, 2002). The exploit of natural resources in the supply of tourists’ facilities can lead to conflicts over resources between the locality and the tourism industry. For example, the Tam Dao tourism site in Vinh Phuc province has become degraded; areas of Trang Tien, opera house or Bac Co in inner of the capital city should have planned into flower gardens rather building of Hilton hotel; beaches in Ha Long Bay of Quang Ninh province has been imposed by Hoang Gia hotel project; Van Phong gulf in Khanh Hoa province is about to become an uncultivated bay because of a shipbuilding plant (Le Minh, 2010)
Deforestation and intensified use of the resources can also result in environmental pollution and erosion. Pressures on the environment and tourism resources generated by the development of tourism in Vietnam are excessive. Often, those impacts are due to improper planning, negligent behavior by tourism-related services and tourists, and a lack of education and awareness towards the impacts by many localities.
In Vietnam, there have been many national parks cater to both conserve biodiversity as well as tourism attraction. It is risky for mass tourism participates in national parks with fragile forest ecosystems. In addition to the stresses put on the local environment through accommodating the needs and comforts of these tourists: communication routes, provision fuel wood and waste disposal services all put a large stress on the ecology (De, 2002; Luong, 2005a).
3.3.1 Poor infrastructure
The poor public infrastructure in Vietnam is a major issue to hotel and tourism. Roads are poor with many potholes and the adequate transport links between the north and south parts of the country. Floods in roads after downpours can be easily seen in tourist destination sites, causing a great deal of inconvenience and bad tourism image to tourists. The railway system is weak and substandard. Trains, still using steam engines, are slow of poor quality. Poor transportation networks and facilities have impeded travel by international tourist within the country (Connie and Terry, 1998). The system infrastructure is poorly developed whereby the transportation, tourism services, information system, telecommunication development are limited in terms of quality.
It is important to note that, because of a lack of proper national tourism promotion strategy and its poor infrastructure Vietnam struggles to compete as a tourism destination with some of its more developed neighbors such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia (VNAT, 2005).
3.4 Lack of diversified and sustainable tourism product
There are many articles appearing on the national newspaper Viet Nam News, emphasizing on tourism potential, development and target markets that became an important source of income to the country which resulted the efforts in advertising and promoting the image of Vietnamese tourism in international networks, and at the same time improving the quality of the current tourism products and services. Yet, minimum attentions have been placed towards the requirement of fundamental diversification in identifying and packaging of a tourism product to cater the different needs and expectations by the domestic, the short-haul Asian and the long-haul European and other international markets. It seems that tourism development in Vietnam can be seen through the construction of more high-rise hotel buildings as well as the emerged of international hotel chain to cope with increasing numbers of visitors, with the lack of attention towards the planning and management of those natural resources that attracted tourists in the first place.
3.5 Weak destination image
Those working in the tourism sector argue that the VNAT must implement more promotion towards the country in overseas than just presenting itself at selected international travel trade shows. Currently, the Vietnamese tourism industry has a ratio of 15 percent in repeated international arrivals, which is rather low compared with Singapore, Thailand or Indonesia (Thanh, 2007). The increasing conjunction of the industry into the regional and international tourism market has imposed a strong pressure for Vietnamese tourism enterprises (Bui, 2009). The standards in terms of marketing, branding and promotion have not met the demand and compete in Vietnam’s neighboring countries.
In responding its relative weakness in competitiveness, the Vietnam tourism industry has increasingly over-exploited natural and human tourism resources – cutting development costs in areas such as environmental management and providing poor worker conditions (Thanh, 2007). The deprivation of environmental resources has appeared widely in many tourist destinations such as Cat Ba, Ha Long, Da Nang and Vung Tau.
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