National parks focus on eco-tourism development

July 27, 2018 - 08:00

Việt Nam’s nature reserves and national parks are aiming to boost eco-tourism to facilitate both conservation and economic growth, but their efforts have been hampered by a lack of planning, human resources and funds," said Lê Văn Lanh of the National Association for Nature Reserves in Việt Nam

A family of endangered red-shanked douc langurs (Pygathryx nemaeus) at the Sơn Trà Nature Reserve in Đà Nẵng. National parks and nature reserves have been urged to develop eco-tourism in the central and central highlands regions. — Photo courtesy GreenViet
Viet Nam News

ĐÀ NẴNG  — "Việt Nam’s nature reserves and national parks are aiming to boost eco-tourism to facilitate both conservation and economic growth, but their efforts have been hampered by a lack of planning, human resources and funds," said Lê Văn Lanh of the National Association for Nature Reserves in Việt Nam.

Lanh, speaking at a conference in Đà Nẵng on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in the central and central highlands regions last weekend, said just 61 out of the country’s 167 nature reserves had developed eco-tourism services in line with sustainable development goals. Slow planning and poor long-term strategies by State agencies and local administrations had left sites of rich biodiversity facing an uncertain future.

He stressed that many tourism services in nature reserves were not actually eco-tourism. Often, tourism merely serves to make money through entrance tickets and guide fees.

“It’s not eco-tourism. That’s mass tourism or over-tourism at the reserves, as most visitors just come to the sites for new adventures or a change from noisy urban life rather than for an understanding of nature and biodiversity,” Lanh said at the conference.

He said it seemed economic growth was the top priority, not conservation of biodiversity.

“They [local governments] often planned mass infrastructure, expressways, cable car systems, a series of giant hotel or resort projects or mass transit to serve numerous tourists in the future,” he said, adding that local leaders and planners focused on drawing as many tourists as possible while disregarding environmental protection.

Lanh pointed out that some projects had resulted in the destruction of nature or changes to local lifestyles, such as the cable car systems to Fansipan Mountain in Sa Pa town of Lào Cai Province, at Bà Nà Hills in Đà Nẵng and on Phú Quốc Island. He also criticised the potential cable car route in Sơn Đoòng Cave, the UNESCO-recognised site in Quảng Bình Province.

According to a report from the special use forest management agency under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, nature reserves and national parks hosted more than 2 million tourists in 2017, marking 178 per cent growth in comparison to 2016. The tourism brought in total revenue of VNĐ114 billion (US$5 million), but only VNĐ9 billion ($400,000), or 8 per cent, was returned to biodiversity conservation.

Nguyễn Minh Đạo, from the national Forestry University in Hà Nội, said environmental protection of nature reserves and national parks, which are managed both by central government agencies or local administrations, had been undervalued in the cost of tourism services, with only about 1 or 2 per cent of a ticket price being used for environmental protection.

He said low environmental payments did not encourage the participation of the community in environmental protection.

Kon Ka Kinh National Park in Gia Lai Province. The park is a favourite site for eco-tourism development.— VNS Photo Công Thành

Đạo said the central and Central Highlands regions have strong potential for eco-tourism development with 66 nature reserves (1.48 million hectares), or 58.7 per cent of the country’s forest area, but the poverty rate is 1.3 times higher than the country’s average.

He said the development of eco-tourism at nature reserves and parks in the region will require a change in attitude among provincial leaders, as well as among State tourism workers at the reserves.

He suggested unique eco-tourism services for each national park and reserve tailored to its biodiversity features, and a network of national parks with the participation of the community in planning and protecting the forest.

Associate Professor Yoshida Yamamoto from St Agnes’ University shared Japans’ experiences in sustainable tourism and nature conservation through promoting eco-tourism.

She said the promoting eco-tourism requires the preservation of certain businesses, residents, non-profit organisations and experts on natural tourism resources.

Dr Miki Yoshizumi from Ritsumeikan University shared a case study on eco-tax in eco-tourism development in Spain’s Balearic Islands.

She said the islands, where the number of visitors increased from 3 million to 13 million between 2010-16, introduced a new environmental tourist tax on visitors in 2016. The tax brought huge revenue and almost all the money went to the Natural Restoration Fund on the island.

Miki suggested an eco-tax could be one of the potential methods for the Sơn Trà nature reserve to control the use of natural resources on the basis of the user-pays or polluter-pays principle.

Vũ Đức Giỏi, from the National Yok Đôn Park, said cooperation between the park and AsiaAnimal organisation yielded a sustainable tourism service by changing the elephant riding service into a tour to feed and care for the elephants at the park.

He said elephants living in the park now have been released from the rope and metal chains that covered their feet.

A ranger at the Sao La Nature Reserve sets up camera traps to track wildlife in Thửa Thiên-Huế Province.— VNS Photo Công Thành


Nguyễn Quốc Dựng from the Institute of Forest Survey and Planning said Sơn Trà Nature Reserve was poorly managed. Responsibilities overlap between defence agencies, rangers, local administration and tourism service providers and administrators.

He suggested Sơn Trà Nature Reserve in Đà Nẵng be combined with a vast area of special-use forest of South Hải Vân and the water area of Sơn Chà Islet into a strictly protected area under the management of one agency.

According to director of Đà Nẵng-based Centre for Biodiversity conservation, GreenViet, Trần Hữu Vỹ, the biodiversity of the reserve has been under threat after the Việt Nam National Administration of Tourism announced a plan to develop the nature reserve as a national tourism site and an upmarket ecotourism resort complex by 2030. The plans include 1,920 villas, 24 bungalows and 1,600 luxury hotel rooms to accommodate 300,000 tourists.

The reserve, which had already shrunk from 4,439ha to 2,500ha to accommodate resorts and hotels between 1977 and 2014, would have to give up another 1,056ha for the new luxury tourism complex.

Up to now, 18 out of 25 hotels and resorts on Sơn Trà Mountain have been approved by the city, on a total of 1,220ha.

The reserve, 10km from Đà Nẵng, is unique in Việt Nam and the world, with its biodiversity ranging from primary forests to ocean dunes, with more than 1,000 plants and 370 animal species.

Lê Ngọc Thảo, from Chàm Island, a world biosphere reserve site off the coast of Hội An city in Quảng Nam Province, shared experiences from the successful management of tourism and conservation on the island.

He said the island hosted 400,000 tourists in 2017 with revenue of VNĐ25 billion ($1.1 million), but 48 per cent of the revenue was used for nature restoration and marine protection.

Thảo said the island had banned plastic bags, classified garbage at the source, established areas where fishing is prohibited and set an allowance for the fishing season between April and July.

But he worried that tourist property projects now in development on the island will damage the environment.

Thảo said a resort project was granted an investment licence in 2003, six years before the island was recognised as the world biosphere reserve site in 2009. The investors have been building the resort under the old licence, neglecting to adjust to new development restrictions as a result of the island’s recognition as a biosphere reserve.

He said a helipad had been planned for the resort in 2003 before the island was recognised as a world biosphere reserve, something that would not be allowed for construction in such a site. Yet the investors kept it in the construction after the recognition anyway, disguising it as T-shape bridge.

The conference, which was held in co-operation with the city’s Union of Science and Engineering, PanNature, GreenViet and the Environment and Biological Resource Teach Research Team of Đà Nẵng College of Teachers, showcased 21 scientific reports on eco-tourism development at national parks and nature reserves. — VNS