On October 26 to 30, 2018, Catherine Germier-Hamel, Founder & CEO of Millennium Destinations, carried out a mission in Northern Vietnam, together with Dr. Béatrice Bellini, Director of the Positive Business Chair of Paris Nanterre University in France.
The mission started with a one-day tour to Bai Dinh Pagoda, or Bái Đính Temple Spiritual and Cultural Complex, a popular Buddhist pilgrimage destination located in Ninh Bình Province. This large compound covering an area of 700 hectares was built between 2003 and 2010 by local construction company Xuan Truong. The construction materials include locally quarried stone and timber from Ninh Bình, and artisanal works from local handicraft villages were selected for the interior.
On Oct. 27th, the International Conference on "New Tourism - Local to Global Initiatives" took place at Bai Dinh Hotel, and was organized by the Faculty of Tourism and Hospitality of the National Economics University (NEU) in Hanoi, with the support of Hoa Lu University in Ninh Binh.
The conference included two concurrent sessions: Session 1 on Responsible and Sustainable Tourism, and Session 2 on Tourism Business and Initiatives.
Dr. Bellini gave a keynote speech on "Analysis of sustainability-branded tourism products in Vietnam: an exploratory study", and chaired the Session 1, together with Assoc. Prof. Dr. Pham Truong Hoang, Dean of the Faculty of Tourism and Hospitality of NEU.
As one of the speakers of session 1, Catherine Germier-Hamel gave a presentation on sustainable smart tourism development and promotion, with a focus on local communities as key stakeholders and right holders. She mentioned that the growing phenomenon of "overtourism" was often a matter of perception from local residents and visitors as well, and she took this opportunity to introduce the 2018 Global Campaign "Fair Travel Living Together" with Millennium Destinations and the Positive Business Chair as partners.
In conclusion, she suggested that while sustainable tourism could be defined as a strategic vision, a business model applicable to any form of tourism, and a lifestyle, it could also be seen as a spiritual system which requires not only faith and principles but also daily practice.
Session 1 also included presentations on: "New view on public-private cooperation for sustainable tourism development in Cambodia" by , "The Development of spiritual tourism in Thua Tien Hue province, Vietnam", and "Developing urban tourism product in Vietnam: facts and directions".
With (from left) Dr. Pham Truong Hoang (1st), DR. Chuk Chumno, Director of Department of Tourism Development and Director of Division of Tourism Management and Development, Ministry of Tourism of the Kingdom of Cambodia (2nd), Dr. Béatrice Bellini (3rd), Catherine Germier-Hamel (4th), and Dr. Tran Huy Duc, Head of Department of Hospitality Management (last)
In the afternoon, the conference was followed by a boat tour in Trang An landscape complex in Ninh Binh, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.
As mentioned in UNESCO's website, there are about 14,000 residents living in Trang An, a mixed cultural and natural property contained mostly within three protected areas: the Hoa Lu Ancient Capital, the Trang An-Tam Coc-Bich Dong Scenic Landscape, also known as “Halong bay on land”, and the Hoa Lu Special-Use Forest.
Trang An covers a surface area of almost 5,000 hectares and is most famous for its over 1,000 row boats owned by Xuan Truong company and managed by locals. Xuan Truong is in charge of aspects of conservation and tourism management in the Trang An-Tam Coc-Bich Dong Scenic Landscape area, and there are four small private tourist resort operations within the property.
Although the tourism boating industry in Trang An has generated new job and income opportunities for the local community, and therefore contributed to the elimination of poverty in the area among many other positive direct, indirect and induced effects, the site might become a victim of its growing popularity and eventually suffer from overtourism if the flows of tourists are not carefully planned, managed and monitored.
In 2017, Ninh Binh Province welcomed over 7 million visitors, up nearly 10 per cent against 2016, of which international visitors were nearly 860,000 (Ninh Binh Province Tourism Department). One of the three boat itineraries offered at Trang An landscape complex now includes a stop at the filming location of Hollywood blockbuster "Kong: Skull Island" (2017), an attraction that may not be compatible with its status of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A responsible, smart, and participative management of the site is of utmost importance for the sustainable development of Trang An landscape complex.
On Sunday 28, the team participated in a tour to the Perfume Pagoda near Hanoi, locally known as Chua Huong. The tour was organized by Dr. Nguyen Van Thuy Anh from the Faculty of Human Resource Management and Economics of NEU. The Perfume Temple, also known as Chua Trong (Inner Temple), is located at the centre of the complex, in Huong Tich Cave. It is accessible by foot or by cable car.
The Perfume Pagoda is a very popular pilgrimage destination, and during the Huong Pagoda Festival, the longest and most elaborate annual festival in Vietnam, thousands of pilgrims and tourists are flocking from across the nation.
Monday Oct. 29 was dedicated to strategic meetings with local and international stakeholders in Hanoi, in preparation of upcoming initiatives and events aimed at co-creating and promoting innovative and responsible tourism experiences, businesses and contents in Vietnam.
In particular, key representatives of the Faculty of Tourism and Hospitality of NEU expressed their interest in hosting an international conference on smart and responsible tourism, in partnership with Millennium Destinations and the Positive Business Chair of Paris Nanterre University, that would include a Sustainable Smart Tourism Forum, and would connect academia, experts and tourism professionals from the public and private sectors.
On Oct. 30, a visit was organized at Animals Asia's Bear Sanctuary in Tam Dao, where moon and sun bears are rehabilitated and cared for and where bear teams gather evidence of the effects of bile extraction, usually operated by the bear bile farming industry.
According to Animals Asia, "more than 10,000 bears are kept on bile farms in China, and official figures put the number suffering the same fate in Vietnam at about 1,000."
Too many Traditional Medicine practitioners, especially from China, Japan, and South Korea, are still consuming bear bile, often illegal trade.
Bear bile has been used in Traditional Medicine for over 3,000 years, to treat fever, swelling and pain in cases of trauma, liver conditions and sore eyes. The Bear Sanctuary is promoting herbal substitutes as responsible alternatives.
The Vietnam Bear Sanctuary plays a crucial role in the areas education and research, through several knowledge sharing and awareness-raising activities. It also provides direct employment for Vietnamese people in areas such as bear care, horticulture, food preparation and security, and many local people are employed indirectly through services and construction.
The sanctuary is not open to general public on a daily basis in order to maintain its integrity but open day guided tours are available upon request on specific days each month.
Beside the bear program, Animals Asia in Vietnam has an ethical elephant project in Daklak, developed as an eco-tourism initiative aimed at replacing elephant exploitation and rides with observation and learning.