Vietnam is striving to develop sea and island tourism to drive the sea-based economy forward, thus turning itself into a rich and strong marine nation.
A view of the UNESCO-recognised Cu Lao Cham Biosphere Reserve
Exploiting big islands
Vietnam has 12 inhabited island districts, namely Hoang Sa, Truong Sa, Bach Long Vy, Cat Hai, Van Don, Co To, Con Co, Ly Son, Phu Quy, Con Dao, Kien Hai and Phu Quoc.
The master plan for sea-based economic development by 2020 aims to develop high-quality tourism on the three island districts of Van Don (Quang Ninh), Con Dao (Ba Ria-Vung Tau) and Phu Quoc (Kien Giang).
According to Ngo Hoai Chung, Deputy General Director of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), a series of mechanisms have been approved to develop high-quality services and products in the three island districts.
For example, an international seaport, airport, and casino will be built in Van Don. With high-end entertainment services, bestowed with ecotourism potential and located in the network of the natural wonder Ha Long Bay, bordering Mong Cai city and the fascinating complex of islands and caves in Cat Ba island, Van Don is expected to become “another Macao” in Asia.
Con Dao is home to the Con Dao National Park covering nearly 20,000 hectares on land and sea, and the special national relic site of Con Dao Prison. The island was listed as one of the 10 most attractive destinations in Asia by Lonely Planet and one of the Best Secret Islands on the earth by the US Travel and Leisure Magazine. Con Dao is set to become one of the icons of Vietnam’s sea and island tourism sites.
Meanwhile, more new mechanisms have been devised for Phu Quoc to improve its infrastructure and lure tourists, particularly foreigners. Incentives have been offered to investors in building seaports, airports, high-end resorts and other tourism services such as trade centres, finance, banking, insurance and telecommunications.
Foreign visitors to Phu Quoc island are enabled to enjoy a 30-day visa exemption. The efforts aim to transform the island district into a special economic zone, Chung said.
Many other islands have become popular destinations for holidaymakers, including Co To, Thanh Lan (Quang Ninh), Cat Ba, Cat Hai (Hai Phong), Ly Son (Quang Ngai), Phu Quy (Binh Thuan) and Con Co (Quang Tri).
Looking toward pristine islet system
Dr. Du Van Toan, Head of the Division of Marine Resources and Climate Change Research of the Vietnam Institute of Seas and Islands highlighted the importance of over 2,700 small islets, describing each of them as an unsinkable ship that helps safeguard the nation’s sea and island sovereignty while propelling sea-based economic development.
There are numerous renowned island-based tourism role models across the world, including Hawaii in the US, Aukland in New Zealand, and the Maldives.
There remains room for Vietnam to develop similar models, while improving existing examples. Nam Du in Kien Giang, Hon Tre in Nha Trang, Cu Lao Cham in Quang Nam, and Ly Son in Quang Ngai can be considered successful examples, Toan elaborated.
In the nation’s industrialisation and modernization process, it is difficult to prevent coastal areas from the risk of pollution.
Beaches across the nation have become overcrowded, particularly during the peak season. More and more people want to enjoy high-quality tourism products.
If domestic tourism facilities fail to satisfy the demands of holiday-makers, they will travel abroad.
That is why pristine islands, with clean water and white-sand beaches, particularly those around 20-50 km offshore, will become a momentum for sea-based tourism, Toan told the Vietnam News Agency (VNA).
APEC Vietnam 2017 offers golden opportunity
Vietnam has set a target of attracting 22 million foreign visitors, serving 58 million domestic tourists, and earning 200 trillion VND (8.8 billion USD) from sea and island tourism by 2020.
To realise these targets, the tourism sector has moved to take every opportunity it has to develop sustainably.
In an interview granted to the VNA, Dr. Le Tuan Anh, Deputy Director of the VNAT’s International Cooperation Department, said hosting APEC Year 2017 is a “golden opportunity” for Vietnam’s tourism, particularly sea and island tourism.
The country has introduced the images of its people and landscapes and modern infrastructure facilities to participants at APEC meetings.
Not until 2017 did the nation move to take advantage of the opportunity for the tourism sector. Since Vietnam planned to host APEC Year 2017, tourism has been a key factor in selecting venues for APEC meetings and activities as well as proposing the agenda for the meetings.
Within the framework of the first APEC Senior Officials' Meeting (SOM 1) in Nha Trang city, the Tourism Working Group (TWG) organised a workshop on sustainable tourism in the APEC region in the context of climate change, Anh said.
Vietnam also put forth tourism initiatives in response to the International Year 2017 of Sustainable Tourism launched by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
The APEC 2017 minister-level dialogue on sustainable tourism is scheduled to take place in Ha Long city, Quang Ninh province, in June.
Anh stressed that during the event, Vietnam will introduce its activities in response to the UN goals on sustainable tourism development, showing its commitment to sustainable tourism development.