Ivory is found in a cargo container in central Việt Nam. VNS Photo Công Thành
HÀ NỘI – A survey of nearly 600 Chinese tourists who visited Việt Nam showed that 17 per cent of them visited ivory shops during their visit and an estimated 2 per cent bought ivory products with an average spend of VNĐ12 million (US$522).
The report shows an important but not surprising fact that, of the people who had visited an ivory shop suggested to them, 59 per cent of the suggestions came from local tour guides.
The report ‘Beyond the Ivory Ban: Research on Chinese Travelers While Abroad,’ produced by WWF and the research firm GlobeScan, collected results by surveying Chinese travellers on their attitudes towards the ivory trade, as well as their purchasing behaviour while abroad sometime between 2017 and 2019.
More than 3,000 Chinese visitors who had travelled to Cambodia, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Việt Nam, were interviewed. The study found that about one in ten Chinese travellers surveyed (11 per cent) had planned to purchase ivory prior to making their trip. During their trips, a significant percentage of surveyed travellers had somebody recommend visiting an ivory retailer, with almost a quarter of travellers having visited at least one shop that sold ivory.
Nguyễn Đào Ngọc Vân, Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade Programme Manager for WWF-Việt Nam, said: “The fact that ivory purchases are being facilitated by those working in the travel and tourism industry in destination countries is worrying, but also presents a good opportunity for targeted interventions. If we can change the behaviour of these tourism sector actors, we can greatly reduce the chances that travellers have to purchase ivory while abroad.”
The study also points out that the Lunar New Year and Chinese National Day Golden Week are peak times for tourists to travel abroad. Việt Nam is ranked by tourists as one of the most attractive destinations to buy ivory products due to perceived availability, better quality of carving, likelihood of the ivory being real and cheaper price compared to other destinations. These products are purchased mainly as gifts for friends or family members, while some are purchased as gifts for a business relation.
Most tourists were aware that it is illegal to buy, sell or transport ivory products across borders. However, under the guidance of ivory sellers, many try (and succeed) in bringing small, easy to hide ivory products back to China. These easily concealed pieces are difficult to detect, and if they are confiscated, the financial and legal damage is minimal.
When assessing the authenticity of the ivory, nearly half of the tourists surveyed said they relied on verifications provided by sellers to determine whether the product was real.
More than 30 per cent of people who purchased ivory had the products sent by the seller to their address in China by post, while 22 per cent transported it home by land or by plane and 11 per cent by boat.
According to Vân, these findings suggest that creative demand reduction efforts and interventions with the private sector are key if we want to keep Chinese travellers from trafficking ivory home.
“If we can discredit 'real' ivory credentials or get shipping companies to cooperate with our anti-ivory trade efforts, then we can disrupt the flow of ivory to China,” Vân said.
The results from the report are an important basis for Việt Nam to develop strategies to reduce demand for ivory and wildlife in tourism in general and among Chinese tourists in particular. The report also proposes ways to reduce the trafficking of ivory and rhino horn by travellers, including addressing the illegal cross-border transport of ivory; detecting and engaging with indirect advertising channels like online travel planning platforms; and continuing to focus demand reduction activities around Chinese Lunar New Year and Golden Week.
It is time for the tourism industry to step up and join conservation organisations in their effort to protect wild species from extinction by fighting tourism driven illegal trade. WWF is ready to provide technical assistance and support to transform the tourism sector into a wildlife-friendly sector that actively protects wildlife as a valuable asset in the development of future tourism and human development. VNS