Tourism, not just ecotourism, in Vietnam, has changed vastly since the mid-1980s. Between political and economic reforms, government-led policy developments, work with the USAID, UNWTO, and UNDP, and a shift towards community-based sustainable tourism development, ecotourism in Vietnam has gradually grown into a fully-fledged industry.
In 1986, under the "doi moi" "renovation" programme of the Vietnamese Congress, a number of political and economic reforms were introduced, decentralising many aspects of government in a shift from a central to a socialist-oriented market economy. In the decades that followed, the government acknowledged the importance of tourism to Vietnam, and incorporated tourism into the socio-economic development strategy for the new millennium.
However, in the process, while tourism has benefitted the economy of Vietnam greatly, it has also contributed to the social, cultural, and environmental degradation of much of the country. As such, the last five or so years have seen yet another shift in focus - this time, to sustainable tourism development, so as to preserve ecotourism in Vietnam for further decades.
With the assistance of the USAID, Vietnam's community-based tourism initiatives have yielded sustainable development and reinforcement of ecotourism principles. The former fishing village of Cat Ba Island, situated in famed Ha Long Bay, and designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve was the focus of a particular USAID effort. Upon the realisation that ecotourism in Vietnam's Ha Long Bay, and particularly Cat Ba Island, had had a considerably negative impact on the region's water supply, and that tourism development had prompted other negative social and environmental effects, the realisation struck that something must be done.
The USAID effort on Cat Ba Island sought to incorporate environmentally and socio-culturally friendly ecotourism practices so that the local communities may see benefits, rather than destruction. Eco-education programmes were introduced so that local hotel owners understood the value of eco-certification, and began to strive to achieve this for their properties. Additionally, a community-based cooperative was established in the village of Viet Hai, in Cat Ba National Park, which has encouraged residents to be a part of community-based tourism through cultural exchange other pro-poor tourism best practices.
Ecotourism in Vietnam gained popularity due to the incredible natural resources possessed by this small, stunning country. Ecotourism opportunities in Vietnam include rafting, mountain climbing, diving, birdwatching, boating, and forms of cultural tourism. Ha Long Bay, in particular, experienced the degradation it did due to its popularity as a beautiful and legendary Vietnam ecotourism destination.
One of the particular draws of Vietnam as an ecotourism destination is its flora and fauna, in which the country is diverse and appealing. Approximately 10 percent of Vietnam's flora and fauna are endemic, and a number of new species have been discovered in the last few decades. Additionally, the coral reef ecosystems of Vietnam are a huge attraction for divers, and the mangroves and wetlands provide even more possibilities for flora and fauna discoveries. Efforts are continually being made to make these popular tourism activities more sustainable, and it appears as though Vietnam is on a solid path towards sustainable tourism development.
Ecotourism in Vietnam
Ecotourism in Vietnam has certainly come a long way in the last twenty-five years. The government's interest not only in developing tourism, but also in re-evaluating the industry to include sustainable tourism development, has been instrumental in Vietnam's growth as a sustainable ecotourism destination. Provided the country continues to follow the path it is on, ecotourism in Vietnam will continue to be a growing and sustainably developing industry.
Photo Credit: Ben Beiske