Tourism development should not ruin natural attractions

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  Terraced paddy fields in Hoang Su Phi District in the northern province of Ha Giang. Photo: SGTT

It is good news that the famous and spectacular terraced paddy fields in Ha Giang Province's Hoang Su Phi District have been named a national heritage site.

However, it is very disappointing to see how local authorities are responding to this recognition.

When asked how local authorities planned to reserve the site in the future at a recent press conference, Hoang Hai Ly, chairman of Hoang Su Phi District, said that they will develop tours to the site and invest in infrastructure for tourism like paving local roads.

He said they have also proposed that travel companies charge each tourist US$1 to pay locals, because "the recognition will not be very meaningful, if it does not help improve local economy."

These statements show how plain, impractical and lacking in vision and understanding the district's approach to tourism development is. It is not a question of exploiting the recognition, but of understanding why it has been conferred. Without this understanding, steps will be taken to spoil the natural attractions that Vietnam is blessed with.

Just like other highlands areas with terraced fields, people in Hoang Su Phi District are still poor. What they need is not $1 from each tourist, but, much more important, better care from local authorities about their meals, clothing, health and schooling. They need roads to their villages to be safe from landslides, not paved roads to paddy fields.

Even without local authorities' promotion activities, people will preserve their fields because they are the sole means of making a living. Without the fields, they would have nothing to eat.

Meanwhile, what tourists need most is a friendly environment where there is no cheating, no rip-off trades, and good services like food and beverages, accommodation and souvenirs.

Vietnam does not have many tourism sites that are up to international standards. We are lucky to have "God-given gifts" like Ha Long Bay in the northern province of Quang Ninh and Phong Nha Cave in the central province of Quang Binh.

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Meanwhile, terraced fields or beaches are available in other countries, even more beautiful and famous, like the 2,000-year-old Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines.

Of course, Vietnam's beaches and terrace fields are beautiful and have good tourism potential. However, while other countries have successfully preserved and used them for tourism long before the sites got appraised, what we have done so far to our recognized sites is exploit that recognition in ways that reduce their beauty and charm.

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