Students of German from two Hanoi universities explored the country’s emerging sustainable tourism sector on a field trip organized by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). The two-day trip covered a farmstay and an ecolodge in two locations north of the capital, and included presentations on the sustainability challenges and opportunities for tourism in Vietnam and Germany.
While the tourism sector offers economic growth and job opportunities, the downside impacts on the environment and the local culture are too often overlooked.
The first stop was a small, out-of-the-way farmstay in Thai Nguyen, around 60 kilometres north of Hanoi, founded by German Christian Oster, a long-time Vietnam resident who wanted to offer a quiet, rural experience off the main tourist track. The visit included a presentation by Anemi Wick, a German journalist and author of a travel book on Vietnam. “Sustainable Tourism not only respects nature and the environment, but also supports the local economy and preserves natural resources for future generations,” she said. The students from the Vietnam National University (VNU) then gave a presentation discussing the problem of unsustainable tourism in the country, where most sites are run to maximise footfall and profit.
In the discussion that followed, the students demonstrated a deep understanding of the conflicts of tourism in an emerging economy like Vietnam. While the sector offers economic growth and job opportunities, the downside impacts on the environment and the local culture are too often overlooked. Eco-tourism is growing in popularity in Vietnam, but there are no controls or standards over the attribute “eco”.
After lunch, a final tour across the farmstay and the surrounding rice fields completed the programme of the first day of the excursion.
The group then continued to an ecolodge located in the agricultural province Yen Bai, around 140 kilometres to the west, where they spent the night in a traditional stilt house. This location was another alternative, best-practice example of tourism. Director Frederic Tiberghien explained what distinguishes his project from other touristic sites:
“A journalist once asked our neighbours what had changed during the 10 years of this project. The answer was – nothing.”
The project, which calls itself a community tourism development project implements the principle of sustainability through own education, respect for the environment and local culture preservation. A long-term goal is to improve the lives of the Dzao minority people living in the region. After the introduction from Mr. Tiberghien, the students from Hanoi University (HANU) added a presentation on tourism concepts in Germany to the second’s day program, providing another perspective from an industrialized country.
Finally, the visit to the Dzao people was very meaningful to all participants. There they had the chance to experience how the locals use certain kinds of leaves and plants as traditional medicine to cure injuries. “I learned so much about the impacts of tourism in these two days,” one HANU student said. “In future, I will choose my vacation destinations more carefully to get a great, but also sustainable experience.”
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