Vietnam News

Garbage and more hinder Vietnamese tourism

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Sven Erik used to regularly pay work visits to Vietnam as a distributor for our Norwegian company, but I was curious why he never traveled our beautiful country for fun.

He and I would get together periodically, and each time he would tell me about a recent family vacation he had just taken somewhere in the world, whether it was the Mediterranean coast, the Caribbean, or even neighboring Thailand. It puzzled me that he seemed to have never made his way to the stunning beaches of Vietnam.

But Sven said that he and his family had in fact visited Vietnam’s central coast for a vacation, however they had no plans to go back. They enjoyed the great cuisine and stunning beaches in Vietnam, but couldn’t stomach the trash everywhere. Garbage of all kinds was thrown around, he said, including plastic bags, bottles, cans, leftovers, and even duck eggshells, peanut shells, and face masks.

In a related story, an expat Vietnamese family I met in Montreal once gave me great advice about where to go on vacation in the Americas. They said I should go to a Central American beach and compare it to Vietnam. So, I decided to take my family to Cancun – Mexico’s world-famous beach destination – this past spring.

Due to Mexico’s visa-free policy for holders of U.S. or Canadian visas, we were greeted at the Cancun border gate and escorted through with ease despite the need for an entry visa for Vietnamese nationals.

We were picked up from the airport and taken to the resort, which was located right on the beach.

The five-star resort offered full-service dining at seven exquisite restaurants that served both local and Asian cuisine. You could book nature tours, hiking and other outdoor activities at the front desk. There was an on-site nine-hole golf course, shopping, and tours available to explore local cultural specialties.

Prices for the entire five-star package program, which included round-trip airfare from Montreal to Cancun, averaged just over $1,000 per person. This price is absolutely ridiculously low compared to tours of Vietnam that provide the same amenities without the same level of service.

The best and most notable part of our Cancun trip was that the beach and tourist areas were totally free of trash. Everyone, from resort workers to visitors, was well-aware of the importance of properly sorting trash at its origin.

The above personal experiences, and Sven’s insights, have helped me begin to understand why so few international visitors to Vietnam plan to return.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Organization (WTTC), 2019 was Vietnam’s “golden year” for tourism, with over 10% of tourists coming back after their first visit, compared to 82% and 89% in neighboring Thailand and Singapore, respectively.

Following a disappointing year in which only 3.6 million international visitors were welcomed in 2022, the tourism industry has set a goal of 8 million by 2023. At first, this target seemed “within reach,” or even “easy to reach,” with experts anticipating the reopening of markets like South Korea and, most importantly, China, which sent more than 5.8 million tourists to Vietnam in 2019.

However, after China’s border reopened on Jan. 8, Chinese travel agencies were only permitted to arrange international tours to 20 countries, not including Vietnam. When this list will be updated is unknown. The question of “how to lessen reliance on the Chinese market” now takes on greater urgency in light of the current political and economic climate.

It seems that an obvious answer to this puzzle would be Europe, with its sizable consumer market, wealthy visitors, and high standard of living. Nonetheless, as the Sven case demonstrates, given Vietnam’s current state of tourism, attracting the high-end segment will not be easy.

The global community now recognizes waste as a critical issue that must be mitigated. More than two billion tons of solid waste are produced annually around the world today, and this number is projected to rise to three or four billion tons by 2050. When it comes to releasing trash into the ocean, Vietnam is ranked fourth worldwide. For eco-conscious, habitual travelers from other countries, littering is an absolute no-no.

But trash is just one of the many problems that are plaguing Vietnam’s tourism industry.

Obtaining convenient visas is difficult here. The government has urged relevant agencies to adopt a more welcoming stance towards entry procedures for tourists, but this has been a lot of talk, with no action.

Tourism sector insiders say they are working hard and “looking forward” to a full recovery after Covid. But things need to be done, not just looked forward to.

In tandem with a government pledge to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050, the tourism sector needs to both begin providing higher-caliber services, and start welcoming international visitors via an open-door policy.

Quality must rise, prices must fall, and Vietnam’s carbon footprint must shrink, all at the same time. Each of these issues needs to be treated with the same level of urgency.

The tourism industry will not be able to create welcoming services for visitors if it just focuses on marketing beaches, natural attractions, friendly locals, and delicious food, without also addressing the entry visa issue. Whether it’s maintaining a competitive price, or creating a clean green environment, the road towards hitting this year’s goal of 8 million turns will be a rocky one.

By Dinh Hong Ky – – February 22, 2023

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