Vietnam has the foundation to become a market leader in cultural tourism within Asia which is attested to in countless visitor surveys which consistently highlight the Vietnamese culture as a key motivation for international travellers.
What Vietnam offers these visitors is a rich and varied culture, both historical and contemporary, vibrant cities, and unique rural communities populated by 54 different types of ethnic groups. At the pinnacle of Vietnam’s cultural tourism offerings are seven UNESCO classified World Intangible Cultural Heritages and five World Cultural Heritage Sites, including Thang Long Citadel, Citadel of the Ho Dynasty, Hue’s Monument Complex, Hoi An Ancient Town, and the My Son Sanctuary are testament to Vietnam’s strong cultural offerings.
However, while culture is identified as one of the nation’s core tourism products within the national tourism strategy, under a backdrop of mass tourism, Vietnam faces considerable challenges in ensuring its cultural heritage is effectively planed and managed to ensure its continued value and worth to the local people and visitors alike.
Making cultural tourism responsible
The link between cultural heritage and Responsible Tourism is most evident in the symbiotic relationship of cultural heritage being used to attract the tourism dollar and then reinvesting that revenue back into the protection of the cultural heritage and raising awareness about its importance, thereby creating a virtuous cycle of benefit.
The greatest challenges within this equation is how to get Vietnam’s cultural heritage site managers to adopt sustainable approaches in the identification, protection, management, interpretation and promotion of cultural heritage that will enhance social, economic and environmental benefits and minimise associated negative impacts.
To help tackle this problem, the EU-funded Environmentally & Socially Responsible Tourism Capacity Building Programme (ESRT) is targeting three key areas to foster greater responsibility in cultural heritage tourism planning and management by a) developing and promoting responsible tourism policies, b) assessing and revising cultural heritage site occupational skills standards, and c) finally raising the capacity of cultural heritage site managers with tools and strategies to implement more sustainable approaches in cultural heritage site management.
Responsible Tourism Policy Guidelines
ESRT has developed a comprehensive set of Responsible Tourism Policy Guidelines designed as a practical resource to assist with tourism policy making and legislation in Vietnam. One pillar in the guidelines, “Protect and sensitively promote natural and cultural heritage”, provides guidance on the development of cultural heritage policies that will help improve management capacity to effectively plan and manage visitor volume and their related impacts at heritage sites, reduce commercialisation and resulting destruction and degradation of heritage resources, and strengthen co-operation amongst local stakeholders at cultural and environmental tourism sites.
Needs assessment and occupational standards
Vietnam’s cultural heritage managers require the skills to interpret and present cultural assets in a way that is authentic and engaging. Through a Vietnam Training Needs Assessment ESRT has identified and developed a range of cultural heritage management skills that will foster a more responsible approach to the management of Vietnam’s cultural heritage assets. In particular, new occupational standards for the cultural tourism segment have been developed for on-site guiding, cultural awareness, customer service, events management, food and beverage service, and accommodation. These skills are now incorporated into the Vietnam Tourism Occupational Standards which will help mainstream sustainable actions into all of Vietnam’s formal accredited training into the future.
Building capacity at cultural heritage sites in Responsible Tourism
Finally, as a part of its nation-wide multi-stakeholder responsible tourism capacity building programme, ESRT is delivering a multi-day seminar to key stakeholders in Ninh Binh, Phu Tho, Hue and Quang Nam entitled “Responsible tourism development and conservation in cultural heritage sites” which provides a basic overview of theoretical underpinnings and benefits of adopting a responsible tourism approach in cultural heritage site management, and introduces participants to specific tools and strategies they can use to achieve greater sustainability.
The Vietnam Responsible Tourism Policy Guidelines, Vietnam Tourism Occupational Standards, and Responsible Tourism development and conservation in cultural heritage sites seminar presentation are available in Vietnamese and English for free download from the ESRT website, www.esrt.vn.
Benefits of cultural heritage tourism
The overall benefit of cultural heritage tourism is that it fosters the protection of a nation’s cultural treasures while at the same time helps improve the quality of life of local residents and builds cross-cultural understanding and respect with visitors. Some of the most commonly cited benefits of cultural tourism include:
· Provides a cultural experience and enables cultural exchange
· Contributes to the preservation of built heritage
· Provides new employment opportunities and contributes to local economic development
· Enhances the amenity of a region and builds community pride