Top coastal resorts beached

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Nha Trang and Mui Ne listed in the bottom group of National Geographic Traveler magazine

Foreign visitors relax on a beach in Nha Trang, one of the most popular holiday destinations in the country. The beach has been "bottom-rated" in the latest issue of the National Geographic Traveler.

In a strident wake up call, the nation's most vaunted coastal attractions have been "bottom rated" by the US-based National Geographic Traveler magazine, giving fresh fuel to those who have been railing against "developments" that have been destroying the most scenic landscapes in the country.

Experts and officials have reacted with alarm to the latest listing by the magazine that places Nha Trang and Mui Ne in the "bottom rated" group.

Vu The Binh, head of the travel department under the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, said the survey's findings are accurate and it should be taken as a warning.

"Concrete construction along Nha Trang beaches has been rampant. And poor waste treatment has damaged their natural beauty," he said. "I think this ranking is a warning that should make us cautious about unsuitable moves in coastal tourism development."

In its November-December issue, the National Geographic Traveler announced its seventh annual "places rated" list of 99 beaches evaluated by a panel of 340 well-traveled experts in many aspects including preservation of history, sustainable tourism, ecology, geography, site management and indigenous cultures.

The beaches were evaluated based on six criteria: environmental and ecological quality, social and cultural integrity; condition of historic buildings and archaeological sites; aesthetic appeal; quality of tourism management; and outlook for the future.

They were categorized in six levels: "top rated" for being in excellent shape, relatively unspoiled, and likely to remain so; "doing well" for retaining sense of place, with a few surmountable problems; "in the balance" for having a mixed bag of successes and worries, with the future at risk; "facing trouble" for being under severe pressure, many places working to recover; "bottom rated" for severe problems with some destinations fighting back and some not; and "near catastrophic" for a disaster that has occurred and where tourism has a role in recovery.

The Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland and Labrador topped the list with 84 points, followed by Pembrokeshire coast in New Zealand's Tutukaka Coast, which got 80 points.

Only two were categorized as "near catastrophic", both in the US, including Mississippi's Gulf Coast at 33 points and Louisiana's Gulf Coast at 24 points.

In Vietnam, the Nha Trang beach in Khanh Hoa Province and Mui Ne beach in Binh Thuan Province both scored 43 and listed in the "bottom rated" category.

Both are located in the south-central region and Nha Trang Bay is a member of the World's Most Beautiful Bay Club.

"Overdevelopment without a watchful eye" has recently swallowed up stretches of previously empty coastline in both of these southern resort towns, putting the "amazing natural beauty" of their environs at risk, the magazine reports.

"My impression was too many hotels and visitors. Water quality was poor. I noticed that waste from some hotels was thrown into the sea. But the resort has some potential if it is carefully managed," it quoted an anonymous panelist as saying.

Opposing the survey's findings, the vice chairman of Khanh Hoa Province People's Committee, the provincial government, Lai Xuan Than said the only problem with tourism in Nha Trang was the lack of diversified and high-quality services.

"The [National Geographic Travelers] article refers to overloading at Nha Trang beach from pressure of commercial development. I think this is inaccurate. Nha Trang has been selected by the Olympic Council of Asia to host the fifth Asian Beach Games in 2016," Than said.

"It shows that Nha Trang is no "˜bottom rated' place as listed by the magazine because the council had surveyed the environment and sights here before they made their choice," he said.

However, Than also admitted that "at certain times, the beaches were overcrowded with hygienic problem." He said the provincial authorities had mobilized forces to clean them up soon after.

Lai Huu Phuong, director of the Ho Chi Minh City-based Ben Thanh Tourist Company, said the beaches were bottom-rated because of unexpected, harmful consequences of rapid tourism development.

"Foreign tourists evaluate a beach based on the harmony between humans and nature. Recently, concrete works in Nha Trang have multiplied, making it lose attraction in comparison with other famous beaches in Vietnam like Vung Tau, Da Nang and Phu Quoc," he said.

Nguyen Van My, director of the HCMC's Lua Viet Tourism Company, also backed several points made in the survey.

"The issue has already been reported by the media. Access to beaches has been locked by construction of restaurants and resorts. The survey is a timely warning for tourism authorities in Nha Trang and Mui Ne to make amendments and introduce beach zoning," he said.

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