October, 12 2012 10:22:26

Valuing culture key to sustainability


A view of the Mui Ne sea in Binh Thuan Province, one of Viet Nam's tourist attractions. Experts say community participation and the conservation of existing resources are vital to the development of sustainable tourism. — VNA/VNS Photo
HA NOI (VNS)— To achieve self-sustaining community development, Viet Nam must renew local residents' understanding of the value of its culture, according to Ando Katsuhiro, a tourism expert from Japan's International Co-operation Agency (JICA).

Katsuhiro made the comments in a speech at a conference in Ha Noi yesterday named ‘Tourism powering sustainable development.'

He suggested that communities could work to revive the traditional craft industry and promote tourism through the utilisation of local resources, noting that Viet Nam was blessed with abundant assets including cultural heritage, a celebrated natural landscape and various crafts particular to the country. He added that currently these are not being taken advantage of effectively, and warned that inappropriate development could be disastrous.

The ancient village of Duong Lam, 50km from the centre of Ha Noi was cited as an example of where local residents could become more involved with tourism in order to earn a living.

The number of visitors to the village has increased about 80 times in the last decade, from 1,000 visitors in 2003 to 80,000 last year. However, tourists mainly visited the old traditional houses, without spending much money there meaning local residents do not benefit and tourism does not develop.

Katsuhiro emphasised that there are three pillars needed when developing sustainable tourism. Community participation, private sector partnerships and the conservation and implementation of existing resources.

The private sector and community would share benefits and income generated from tourist activities, conserve local resources and manage the tourist attraction together with the local authorities.

Last year, JICA started implementing a model to promote self-sustaining community development through heritage tourism in the Duong Lam Village. It was expected to engage the three pillar model to improve livelihoods of local people. The conference heard that local people learned more about value of their resources in terms of better conservation and income generation.

They approached businesses offering tourist services including food, accommodation and souvenirs, and the experience of an authentic farming day.

The deputy director of the municipal Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Mai Tien Dung, said that ecotourism and farm tourism like that offered in Duong Lam Village was strongly encouraged to develop.

"Tourism can vitalise traditional handicraft villages, allowing them to preserve and introduce their traditional products. It will contribute positively to the economic development by creating jobs," he said. He rejected the notion that the energy consuming process of building new accommodation and buildings would be necessary, instead suggesting that existing resources be used in developing tourist areas.

Dung also emphasised the need for energy efficiency in tourism, and called for the use of vehicles such as bicycles, pedicabs and electric cars. He argued that solar power not only helps protect the environment and saves energy, but can also diversify the tourist experience and improve its quality.

Many local restaurants and hotels present at the conference showed their interest in implementing energy saving measures, including the use of electric circuits that automatically stop the current when visitors left rooms, and more notifications asking for guests to re-use towels.

Adding his experiences of sustainable tourism in action, G.G Saxena, the director of Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation Ltd introduced the story of Dilli Haat, a weekly market in India.

.India's old tradition of an open market place was taken to contemporary Delhi, offering a kaleidoscope of new craftsmen working with various traditional techniques and bringing life to Indian cuisine, crafts and culture.

"This shows India bringing craftsmen directly into contact with people from all over the world," he said. "Sustainable tourism development aims to ensure that it bring a positive experience for local people, tourism companies and the tourists themselves," he continued, adding that every job created in the tourism sector could lead to many jobs being created in other sectors.

Representatives from Kuala Lumpur city also made a presentation, outlining a tourism model for urban areas. The head of their tourism unit, Noraza Yusof, talked about the city's carbon reduction plans including the expansion of the walkway system for pedestrians and a boost in the use of public transportation.

She said that the city was looking to provide buses which are free of charge, disability friendly and wi-fi accessible in order to offer comfortable trips for visitors, who could both see the city and work thanks to the technological provisions.

Kai Partale, an expert working on a responsible tourism programme funded by the European Union said that urban tourism brought both positive and negative impacts, but competitive and sustainable city tourism should allow people to live, work, visit and do business.

The conference forms part of the 11th meeting of the Council for the Promotion of Tourism in Asia, which is being held in Ha Noi from 9-13 October. The council is Japanese initiative for member cities (currently consisting of Ha Noi, Tokyo, New Delhi, Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Seoul and Taipei) to co-operate in tourism promotion. — VNS

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