Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as locals still prefer to call it, is the fast growing vibrant city in southern Vietnam, a city full of contrasts. It is also a city with more than 8 million inhabitants, and the urban landscape is changing quickly. Traditional Asian buildings exist side by side with modern skyscrapers and traditional street food is cooked next to a modern Burger King restaurant. Thus, Ho Chi Minh City was a perfect place for organizing the second training of the Erasmus+ capacity building TOURIST* project. Altogether 27 staff members from all the 10 partner universities of the TOURIST network participated in the training. The focus of the second training was to discuss solutions for sustainable tourism.
Studying tourism impacts in a city
On the very first day of the training, the participants were introduced to auto-ethnography as a method to collect empirical data. The idea was to motivate participants to actively reflect upon their own experiences of Ho Chi Minh City as a sustainable destination. The assignment was not an easy one, since Ho Chi Minch City is still a place where local people, not tourists, dominate the street view. Also, auto-ethnography as a method was new for many. It is always challenging to identify what sustainability related issues are caused by the everyday life of the inhabitants and what is the impact of tourism in a city where, for instance, waste management and traffic do not work as we are used to in most parts of Europe. Nevertheless, when findings of the auto-ethnographic study were summarized, the participants were able to agree upon some key issues that should be solved in the near future to make the city more sustainable from the perspective of international tourists: traffic safety and the lack of a public transportation system were considered as major issues, as well as putting limits to overfishing (seafood plays an important part in the local cuisine) and prostitution.
Tourism challenges in Ho Chi Minh City
Tourism to Vietnam is growing rapidly and Ho Chi Minh City welcomes more than 5 million foreign tourists annually. It is predicted that there will be a shortage of accommodation in the city and more hotels will likely be built in the city centre forcing locals to move to suburbs. This in turn will increase congestion especially when the economic growth will make it possible for more local people to upgrade their scooters to cars. The appeal of Bangkok as a destination has already suffered from the air pollution and smog, and when Ho Chi Minh City in some years’ time is maturing as a destination, pollution and lack of efficient public transportation will most likely turn into competitive disadvantages.
Involving all the stakeholders
To manage tourism growth in any city, the negative impacts of tourism must be acknowledged even if the money tourism brings in is needed. Strategies for sustainable tourism development should be prepared together with different stakeholders.
Inclusive tourism planning was one of the key issues discussed in the training in Ho Chi Min City. To guarantee a fair distribution of economic benefits of tourism as well as tourism development that is socio-culturally sustainable for all groups of the society, it is important that tourism strategies are prepared as an open process that is transparent and open for all the stakeholders in the destination. Thus, tourism development plans should not be prepared by civil servants at some governmental offices, but created together with inhabitants, companies and NGOs.
* This article was inspired by the TOURIST project training in Vietnam in December 2018. The topic of the training was solutions for sustainable tourism. The TOURIST project aims to create competence centres for the development of sustainable tourism and innovative financial management strategies to increase the positive impact of local tourism in Thailand and Vietnam. http://tourist.fh-joanneum.at/