Tourism and Conservation in Hoi An
The historical city of Hoi An, famous for being one of Vietnam’s most “well-preserved” cities, is fast becoming one of the most visited cities in the Southeast Asian country. At one time it was Vietnam’s most prominent port. For that reason, to this day it is considered a melting pot, with architecture reflecting a blend of cultures and historical eras. Chinese shophouses, Buddhist temples, and the Vietnamese rustic skyscrapers known as “tube houses” line the streets of Hoi An. Along with the famous Japanese Bridge, all of these sites serve as a reminders of the many influences that have come together to create the diverse and dynamic tapestry of Vietnamese culture.
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According to the People’s Council, in 2017, Quang Nam, home to the iconic Hoi An City, received a record number of visitors with 3.22 million tourists reaching the central coastal province.
This record-breaking number of visitors was 21.66% higher than the figures from the previous year, which saw a total of 1.78 million tourists with the city providing services to 1.44 million domestic visitors, according to Vietnam Tourism.
Tourism; Good for Business but Challenging for Sustainability
Duc Tran was born in Saigon in the late 1960s and was a boat refugee to Malaysia in the mid-1980s. After travels led him through Latin and Central America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, Duc found himself in Vietnam again in 1997. “I found Hoi An was nice, beautiful, and the people are wonderful, so I said ‘hey, why don't we try and live in Hoi An for a few years?’ Obviously I made the wrong decision because I’ve been here for the last 16 years! [laughs]” He credits his mother’s love for cooking and nurturing for compelling him to open Mango Mango, a restaurant and hotel that takes modern culinary approaches to traditional Vietnamese “soul food”.
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He explains that the influx of tourism has been good for business, but has brought challenges concerning infrastructure, sustainability and the natural environment. “There are definitely problems to think about now, like the river of plastic in the ocean.” According to the Global Environmental Facility, between the 120,000 citizens in Hoi An, and the deluge of tourists that visit the city on a daily basis, 75 tonnes of solid waste are created daily. The city’s waste eventually finds its way to the oceans, which has long-term, extending, detrimental effects. Duc says, “We are concerned and we want to be sustainable and support and sustainable ways. For example, there’s a pretty good collective of businesses using bamboo straws. With education, it’s coming.”
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Better infrastructure = Happier Travellers
He adds that there are traffic infrastructure problems that need sorting out. “There needs to be more organisation regarding the tourists coming in and out. Often when buses enter Hoi An, there’s not enough space for the buses to park. There’s a bit of chaos and the customers get stressed and actually want to leave Hoi An. Once it’s built-well, functionally, and aesthetically pleasing, people will enjoy with a sense of relaxation. It’s not necessarily a matter of cutting down on the numbers of tourists, but making it manageable.” He also wishes to see more dialogue between the city and the business owners as a means of creating an environment in Hoi An that’s more welcoming to tourists as well as local artists desiring to express their local pride through their work.
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Hoi An stands apart from many tourist destinations in Vietnam in that much of its attractiveness comes from its ability to allow visitors to step into a piece of living history. For this reason, local businesses concerned with drawing large crowds of visitors have an added pressure to preserve while at the same time, growing with the times and creating the infrastructure that will make the central coastal city accessible. Duc states hopefully about Vietnamese people’s ability to surmount difficulties, “We are aggressive enough to approach solving problems and create an opportunity for ourselves. If there’s an idea, get it done!”
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