Artwork. Photo: VGP
With a long history of
civilization fostered over thousands of years of history, Vietnam has
had an extremely rich treasure of tangible and intangible cultural
heritage. That treasure of heritage is the precious human resources
that we harness, promote and develop sustainable tourism.
Relationship between cultural heritage and tourism development
Tourism is a fast growing service industry, making and important contribution and increasingly asserting its position in the economy of many countries. Every year, the world boasts more than 1 billion tourists. It is forecast to reach 1.6 billion by 2020, of which more than 60% travel with the purpose of understanding different cultures. Thus, the key and most important product in the development of tourism is cultural tourism (1).
In recent years, the Party and the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam have set great store by developing tourism. The Prime Minister in Decision No.2473/QD-TTg on 30 December 2011 approved the Strategy on Vietnam Tourism Development until 2020, vision to 2030. Resolution No.92/NQ-CP of the Government on “Some measures to promote Vietnam Tourism Development in the new era” was issued on 8 December 2014. In 2014, the Government issued Resolution No.25/NQ-CP, No.39/NQ-CP and No.46/NQ-CP, which refers to the content, and strong measures to promote tourism development as set out in Resolution No.92/NQ-CP. Resolution of the 9th Plenum of the 11th Party Central Committee (Resolution No.33-NQ/TW) emphasized the preservation and renovation of historical monuments and culture for tradition education and economic development, linking conservation and promotion of cultural heritage with tourism development.
Currently, Vietnam has achieved initial positive results in harnessing potentials and advantages of national cultural heritage in tourism development. However, there remain limitations and difficulties, especially for sustainable tourism development. Therefore, it is an urgent task to promote conservation of cultural heritage values in close association with sustainable.
Cultural heritage and tourism development has an interactive and close relationship. Cultural heritage is the resources of humanities, and treasure for tourism. For its part, tourism has an important role in the promotion and introduction of heritage to visitors at home and abroad. It is the driving force for localities and cultural entities to preserve and strengthen the national cultural identity, and generate revenues for refurbishment, protection and promotion of cultural heritage.
Cultural heritage in each region, each places is the soul of each trip, attracting tourists to contemplate, enjoy, and discover. Conversely, when tourism fails to serve as a bridge between the heritage and tourists, cultural heritage will not be know, tapped and promoted to the wider public. We can say, tourism is an integrated economic industry of profound cultural content, in which cultural heritage plays a key role.
In relation to tourism development, cultural heritage is often used and tapped in the forms of tourism products such as historic sites, cultural and scenic spots, museums, collections, antiques, treasures, cultural events, tourism, cuisine, among others. Other elements to form tourist environment or cultural, and social environment are used indirectly to serve tourist activities, such as lifestyle, living space, memories, the local knowledge and skills of living communities.
Potential and strengths of national cultural heritage in the development of sustainable tourism
Vietnam’s culture is the colorful picture of “unity in diversity”, the essence and convergence of unique cultural values of 54 ethnic groups. According to data of the Department of Cultural Heritage (Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism), in terms of tangible heritage, by the end of 2015, Vietnam has 8 world cultural and natural heritage, 72 special national relics, 3308 national relics, and 7,535 provincial-level relics. The world cultural heritage as well as historical and cultural relics have become extremely attractive destinations for local and foreign tourists, such as the ancient capital of Hue, Ha Long Bay, the My Son Sanctuary, Trang An scenic spot, and Phong Nha-Ke Bang cave. Vietnam boats 148 museums (123 public museums, 25 non-public museums) storing and promoting the values of a majority of cultural heritage in the form of exhibits, national treasures, rare and precious antiques.
Regarding intangible cultural heritage, by the end of 2015, Vietnam has 10 heritage inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, 4 Documentary Heritage under the Memory of the World Program, 153 heritage in the List of National Intangible Cultural Heritage, nearly 8,000 festivals, including more than 3,000 folk festivals showing unique national culture. Many big and unique festivals, such as the Hung Temple festival, Huong Pagoda festival, Giong festival, An Giang Goddess festival, Phu Day festival has become the cultural and spiritual tourism resources to popularize the country, people and culture of Vietnam.
Vietnam is a country known for many traditional craft villages associated with wet rice civilization. Approximately 2,000 handicraft villages, such as bronze casting, jewelry, pottery, carpentry, wickerwork, weaving, stone carving, traditional embroidery together with subtle products are also attractive tourism resources.
Vietnam is also a country with a rich and unique cuisine, combining Asian and European culinaries. Every region, every ethnic group has its typical dishes, many of them have been much favored by foreigners such as spring rolls, noodle, pancakes, and Hue vermicelli. Vietnamese culinary sophisticatedly and diversely prepared have become a strength of Vietnam attracting foreign and domestic tourists.
Besides, the cultural diversity of the 54 ethnic groups, including many ethnic minorities which have still preserved their traditional cultural traits, especially those living in the northern mountains, Central Highlands and Southwestern Vietnam, is cultural tourist products imbued with its own identity.
Conservation and promotion of cultural heritage associated with the development of tourism over the past the years
Recognizing the important role of cultural heritage as a valuable resource for the development of tourism, since 1993, the tourism industry suggested the government to issue policy supporting the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage by allocating 50% of the collected visa fee for this activity. The policy was proposed in the Master Plan on Development of Vietnam's Tourism in the 1995-2010 period and continues to be inherited, and supplemented in the Strategy for Tourism Development of Vietnam to 2020, vision 2030 and is concretized in regional and local plans. The tourism industry also encourages tourist destinations to spend a portion of collected fees for heritage conservation and tourism promotion. Many localities such as Thua Thien-Hue, Quang Nam, Da Nang, and Quang Ninh have developed specific regulations, contributing to the conservation and promotion of heritage values in association with the development tourism, and socio-economic development.
In the last 5 years, attention has been given to promoting the values of cultural heritage tourism development, hence positive results have been made. In 2015, despite many difficulties due to economic slowdown and tensions in the East Sea, Vietnam's tourism welcomed nearly 8 million international passengers (up by 0.9% compared to 2014). Domestic tourism is growing, with 57 million domestic tourists and a total revenue of VND 337,830 billion (up by 6.2% compared to 2014). Tourism revenue from tickets and services in tourist destinations having the World Cultural Heritage has also increased in recent years, contributing significantly to economic growth, and creating more jobs for people. At the Complex of Hue Monuments, revenue from ticket sales and services rose from VND 104.5 billion in 2012 to VND 207 billion in 2015. Similarly, the number of population is Trang An Scenic Spot rose from VND 355 billion in 2012 to VND 410 billion 2015; Hoi An Ancient Town went up from VND 49 billion in 2012 to VND 120 billion in 2015 (according to data of the Department of Cultural Heritage).
Most of the localities, regions, and areas have conducted research to identify typical cultural values, strength of the cultural heritage to develop specific tourism products, build brand and cultural image, and create differences between localities. The central region of Vietnam is known as “Land of heritage” with the development of the brand “Heritage Route,” attracting a large number of domestic and international tourists. In early 2016, three localities in the central region of Thua Thien-Hue, Da Nang and Quang Nam have made efforts to build the brand “The Essence of Vietnam” with support from the project “Responsible Tourism” funded by the European Community. Quang Nam is typically a success story with promoting the image “Quang Nam-Two World Heritage Destination.” Hoi An is trying to build a brand associated with traditional occupations, especially “Lantern Festival,” Thua Thien-Hue with “Hue Festival”, Quang Ninh with “Carnaval Ha Long”, Hai Phong with “Flamboyant flower festival.” The identification and branding based on differences in cultural heritage is a fundamental step to create a foundation for the promotion and development of tourism.
The above results show the important contribution of cultural heritage to the development of the tourism industry in particular, and to socio-economic development of the country in general.
But overall, conservation and promotion of cultural heritage associated with sustainable tourism development in Vietnam have met with difficulties and constraints. Although Vietnam has great potential for tourism, and rich cultural heritage, its tourism industry lags far behind those of countries in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia. Besides constraints in tourism infrastructure, tourism business environment, natural environment, food safety, quality of tourism, and human resources, potential and strengths of cultural heritage have not been brought into play for tourism development, failed to act as strong “magnet” to attract foreign tourists to Vietnam or to come back to Vietnam.
Many heritage tourism products have not met requirements in terms of tourism experience, lacking uniqueness, showing monotony, and duplication, and degrading quickly. In general, Vietnam’s tourism products have only promoted existing advantages, and lacked in-depth investment and innovation, so the value is low, without outstanding tourism products of high competitiveness, and cultural identity. Vietnam boasts only some prominent international tourism brand.
There is overlapping in management of cultural heritage among branches, between branches with local authorities, so there are constraints in management and tapping of heritage as tourism resource. As management of heritage in the capacity of human tourism resources fails to match tourism development plans, it has not effectively helped to link preservation, promotion, conservation and development of cultural heritage.
Solutions for associating conservation and promotion of heritage with sustainable tourism development
To effectively linking conservation and promotion of heritage values to sustainable tourism development, there is a need for coordination, and combination of strong and comprehensive immediate and long-term solutions. Basically, there are the following groups:
First, raising awareness about the role of cultural heritage in the development of sustainable tourism.
It is necessary to communicate and raise awareness of the whole society, especially administrations at all levels, cultural managers, businesses, local communities about the role of cultural heritage for development of sustainable Tourism. Encourage responsible tourism activities from the standpoint of cultural heritage. Improve understanding of the owners of cultural heritage (including households) on the role of cultural behavior, business ethics, national pride in the heritage and tourism promotion and business, provision of related services, introduction of cultural heritage to visitors, especially foreign tourists.
Second, continue to improve the system of related policies and laws.
Review and supplement normative documents to be on par with the real situation, create a favorable legal framework, eliminate outdated regulations which hinder conservation and promotion of cultural heritage’s association with sustainable tourism development. Amend and supplement the Law on Tourism and bylaws to conform to the requirements of development to bring about a competitive advantage for Vietnam’s tourism, and improve legal environment for tourism activities in the country.
Effectively manage and harness heritage values, develop concrete guidance on specialized management perspective, such as cultural management, tourism management and finance management. Focus on some key issues, such as responsible management, preservation of cultural heritage as the common property of the nation, the right to harness cultural heritage for tourism product development, private ownership of heritage; rights to heritage trade and rights to organize private exhibitions of cultural heritage.
Third, implement conservation activities and promote the heritage in association with sustainable tourism development.
Continue to implement effective conservation activities, religious relics, preserve and promote cultural heritage in association with the development of tourism, invest in heritage of high tourism value, create competitive and attractive tourism products full of cultural identity of Vietnam.
Implement appropriate coordination mechanism between heritage protection and tourism development, so that parties participating in the management and harnessing of heritage must share benefit and responsibilities accordingly (management, conservation, repair and renovations, development of tourism products on the basis of respect for the heritage, promotion, and use of accompanying services).
To achieve sustainable tourism development, it is necessary to link harnessing and promoting cultural heritage with protecting ecological environment, tourism environment, security, hygiene, food safety products, traffic safety for visitors, contributing to improving the image and attractiveness of Vietnam’s tourism.
Fourth, mobilize social resources for the conservation and promotion of cultural heritage and sustainable tourism development.
Mobilization of fund is the key to ensure the success of the conservation and promotion of cultural heritage towards sustainable tourism development. Diversify investment resources. Beside state budget allocation, we should mobilize fund from society. Involve business community, the cultural actors, and the whole society to preservation of heritage and promotion of sustainable development for tourism on the basis of State management, respect for international conventions and national law for mutual benefit.
Fifth, improve the quality of human resources for management of cultural heritage and tourism.
It is necessary to train and retrain human resources of high quality for the cultural branch to ensure professional competence on sustainable management and protection of heritage in tourism activities. Besides, tourism human resources should be qualified to participate in the “playground” of the market economy and international integration. Focus on training of tour guides working in a professional manner at tourist sites of cultural heritage.
Vietnam’s tourism potential is very diverse and promising with captivating natural beauty, an age-old culture, and rich and unique cultural heritage which constitute important strength to attract foreign and domestic tourists. However, more efforts must be made to tap on that potential. The cultural, sports and tourism branch as well as ministries, branches and localities must join hands to make cultural heritage the foundation for sustainable development of tourism in the new situation.
(1) Party Central Economic Committee; Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism; Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Vietnam: Proceedings of Workshop on Development of Vietnam Tourism in the renovation period, Ha Noi, May 2015
This article was published in the Communist Review No 886 (August 2016)