The most recent Engaging With Vietnam conference (the 9th) focused on the topics of tourism, development, sustainability, and the preservation of heritage/culture. In the case of Vietnam, these topics are particularly fascinating and relevant ones as over the past two decades the country has witnessed a massive expansion of the tourism sector as business people have sought to cater to the ever-growing number of both domestic and international tourists.
Such a transformation of course brings both positive and negative changes, and this in turn highlights the many issues that the development of tourism encompasses, and the many questions the development of tourism raises.
Who gets to decide what to develop and what to preserve? Who benefits? Who doesn’t? If it is unavoidable that there will be both “winners” and “losers,” what is an acceptable balance between the two? What costs, or negative byproducts, are acceptable in achieving prosperity for the majority? etc.
Many questions like these came to my mind recently when I went for a boat tour and saw tourists engaging in an activity that I had never encountered before in Vietnam (see the video below). And as is always the case when it comes to complex issues like the development of tourism, I could not think of any easy answers to my questions. But this experience certainly gave me a lot to think about.