Conserving Vietnam’s heritage through sustainable development
Sa Pa is currently the main site for mountain tourism in Vietnam. Growth in travel to the area has been rapid, as people come to see local markets, walk in the mountains, explore the ethnically diverse local villages, or escape the summer heat in the lowlands.
Like the most of the mountainous areas in Southeast Asia, this region is the home of several different ethic groups, each with its own distinct language and customs. Tourism around Sa Pa has already had a powerful impact upon the traditional culture on ethnic villages within reach of the tourist dollars. Creating traditional weaves and costumes is now a commercial activity fuelled by intermediaries that buy in bulk for resale through retail outlets in Hanoi at several times the price paid to the suppliers. The effect is to devalue the cultural element. A traditional H’mong wedding set has great ritual significance and takes a skilled weaver two or three months to complete. Over the same period, far more could be made by churning out garments and knick-knacks for tourists. As a result, the H'mong bride wears a nylon wedding dress, and the traditional significance of the costume, and thus the whole ceremony, fades away.There are now serious concerns regarding the impact that tourism growth is having on local minority groups and their environment. Because of these concerns, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) has begun a project in Sa Pa, titled ‘Capacity Building for Sustainable Tourism Initiatives,’ which offers assistance in the development of sustainable tourism activities. Other project agencies are also focusing on the area, notably a local capacity building project funded by SNV, the Dutch development organisation.At Haivenu, we support efforts to sustain the traditional lifestyle and customs of ethnic minority people. We work with development agencies such as SNV, IUCN, and Flora and Fauna International (FFI) to promote responsible tourism that adds value to the local culture and provides a direct income to individual families and communities to strengthen customs and traditions as a normal part of everyday life.
We work with the Trekking Management Board in Sa Pa to encourage visitors to spend time in the villages, experiencing the lifestyle and even working on tasks such as planting, forest management, collecting medicinal herbs and so on.
Elsewhere, on Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay, we’re working with FFI and IUCN to set up environmentally-friendly homestays in the middle of a national park. Also with FFI, we’re helping to establish a network of trekking and cycling routes, and nature trails in Pu Luong, a large area of pristine forest and mountain landscape with several ethnic minority communities about 150km south of Hanoi. We’re also talking to other organisations about capitalising upon the potential of tourism to enhance local cultures, not degrade them.