Ba Ria – Vung Tau with its advantages in terms of natural resources and geography has long been an attractive destination for a large number of domestic tourists, especially on holidays and weekends. However, the province is also suffering from overtourism, which affects local communities and the natural landscapes. Destination Review had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Trinh Hang, Director of the Ba Ria – Vung Tau’s Department of Tourism to learn more about how the province is trying to solve this problem, as well as their vision for a future of sustainable tourism.
After 2 years of facing the COVID-19 epidemic, there was a great need to travel from both domestic and foreign tourists. Ba Ria – Vung Tau and the city of Vung Tau benefit immensely from this demand and have been growing strong since. In the first 7 months of 2022, the province has welcomed nearly 7.9 million visitors. Despite this overwhelming number of returning tourists, we don’t put a lot of weight on it, rather, we want to see how guest enjoy their experience in Vung Tau, and how we can improve it even further. As such, we’re keen on solving the problem of overtourism that we now face, which has been affecting the complete travel experience for many tourists, as well as other factors like local infrastructure, facilities, traffic, and the environment. To solve this problem, the Department of Tourism has suggested a few documents on how relevant departments can come up with new solutions and how to implement them, mainly through two solutions.
The first are solutions that can be immediately implemented. For example, to solve overtourism in places like Vung Tau and Xuyen Moc, the People’s Committees from both destinations have directed local authorities to redirect the flow of tourists and guide them toward nearby destinations, somewhat dispersing the crowds of tourists on holidays. In addition, we also focus on investing in more parking lots, including both permanent and temporary parking lots on unused lands, then uploaded to Google Maps and converted into QR codes so local facilities can use to guide visitors.
The second solution is to fully develop culinary routes and connect travel destinations, when guests plan to visit a place but encounter overcrowding, they can still visit other places nearby. In the long term, the province has concentrated resources to invest in external transport, including the deployment of railways and highways between Bien Hoa – Vung Tau, and the early completion of the Phuoc An bridge to connect the road. In addition, National Highway 51 has also had its usual freight transport divided into the inter-port road to reduce pressure on the highway, and the provincial transport sector has reviewed and re-checked all the intersections at the ports. traffic jams, thereby finding specific solutions to avoid traffic jams on the highway.
In the long term, the province will also synchronize all plans regarding construction, and management, minimizing the number of small and low-quality lodging establishments to accommodate better lodging establishments, as well as high-class entertainment facilities to serve the ever-increasing needs of tourists. In particular, we pay great attention to environmental issues and have issued a project to ensure the local environment stays green and clean during tourism activities. Vung Tau city itself has been awarded the title of ASEAN clean tourist city twice, so it has issued a plan to continue to maintain and improve environmental factors so this position can still be upheld in the coming years.
When it comes to the marine tourism environment, we have two parts, the first is the closed environment, which includes chemicals, waste, and all kinds of gas emissions. The provinces have directed the necessary departments to focus on solving and handling all environmental violations. Not only do we have to clean up garbage from tourists and local businesses, but all year round, the sea here is constantly cluttered by organic waste drifted from the sen, due to the influence of the Northeast and Southwest monsoons. During the Southwest monsoon season, the amount of waste accumulated on Vung Tau’s beaches can go up to tens of tons in just one night.
Facing this obstacle, we have established several teams that can help clean up the beach environment, as well as assign responsibilities to all urban construction companies. When receiving new information about a cluttered beach environment, we will immediately move to process it, even during the night or after hours. Usually, it will take about 1 to 2 hours to process all of the waste that has floated to the beach. Besides cleaning up the environment, we have also talked with local agencies and authorities to communicate with ships and fishermen to avoid littering into the sea.
The second is what we call the soft environment, which includes things like local services and prices. Over the years, Ba Ria – Vung Tau has been focusing on how to handle this environment effectively. When tourists have some problems with local prices, we will immediately investigate. At the same time, we regularly do media programs, calling local businesses to comply with regulations on price control.
Currently, over 90% of Con Dao GRDP comes from tourism, with about 500,000 visitors per year, to accommodate this ever-increasing need for travel, we have decided that upgrading the island’s airport is a necessary thing for the island to prosper. Of course, the flow of tourists coming through the island’s airport is still very important to us, so when the airport is shut down for upgrades and maintenance, airport management and the responsible construction company will strive to finish it as soon as possible, keeping its effects to the island’s tourism industry to the minimum. In the meantime, we will also come up with solutions to help tourists travel to the island through other means, mainly by working with helicopter companies to arrange and increase the number of flight trips going from land to island.
As of now, there is a helicopter transport service going from Vung Tau to Con Dao, which operates on the weekend and will be available more often once the airport is temporarily closed next year, we are also looking towards opening up more flight routes. Moreover, we’re trying to finish upgrading the island’s wharf so it could receive more passenger ships coming from the mainland, whilst making sure that nothing affects tourism activities and tourist experience in Con Dao.
After the whole process is done, the newly-finished airport should be able to receive and service bigger planes like the Airbus A320 and Airbus A321, allowing us to open up more flight routes. Besides the usual flight route coming from Tan Son Nhat in Ho Chi Minh to Con Dao, in 2020 we have opened up 3 flight routes coming from Vinh, Hanoi, and Hai Phong to Con Dao, and we’re planning to open more domestic and international flight routes once the airport is done.
As of now, our consulting unit is making some good progress, and once general plans are approved, we will confirm what to do from now till 2025 and 2030. No matter what, we’ll do our best to prioritize keeping Con Dao a green, clean and beautiful environment, as well as keeping its national relics from being violated.
In the first 7 months of 2022, tourism in Ba Ria – Vung Tau has recovered at a fast pace, however, the number of international visitors is still lower than our target expectations. Currently, the province has successfully welcomed 112,000 foreign visitors, which is still very low in comparison to the 600,000 visitors that we have achieved back in 2019. Of course, this is a common problem that can be found all across the country, not just in Ba Ria – Vung Tau, but it’s still an issue worth paying attention to. To attract more foreigners, back in 2021 we collaborated with BBC for a media campaign that has achieved some great successes, with about 200 news sites talking about us during that time, both domestic and international.
In the future, we’re planning to cooperate with CNN to build a strategic media program between CNN and Ba Ria – Vung Tau. Moreover, we’re also looking into hosting events and programs that are foreigners-friendly, such as organizing the cultural and culinary festival, where consulates from other countries can come to participate and share a part of their culture with the locals.
As for tourism infrastructure, to meet the increasing need for better infrastructure from tourists, we have worked with tourism associations to urge their members, as well as other tourism facilities to renew their tourism products. We mainly focus on establishments that still have enough lands and funds to invest in new types of products, while businesses with no funds or land will just have to focus on renewing products’ details. Currently, Ba Ria – Vung Tau has 132 projects on developing tourism, of which 50 of them have been put into operation, while 35 projects are still working in progress, and the rest are in the middle of initialization.
On one hand, we’re very happy that tourists are coming to Ba Ria – Vung Tau in droves, but on the other hand, we still have a responsibility to create more infrastructures to better serve guests in the best way possible – avoid situations like overcrowding.