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|Bobby Nguyen - Founder and CEO Mekong Rustic (left), Thuy Ta - Sustainable community-based tourism specialist|
In 2018, Vietnam welcomed 15.5 million foreign tourists and 80 million domestic travellers. In the year 2019, these numbers were 18 million and 85 million respectively.
Waste audits conducted by NGOs and Departments of Natural Resources and Environment in some provinces show that each tourist generates an average of 0.6kg of waste per day and this amount tends to increase over the years, and is almost twice as high as the amount of waste generated by the local people in the audited localities. In which, 20 per cent of plastic waste comes from visitors’ activities at hotels and 8 per cent at restaurants. These numbers show that tourism produces a substantial amount of waste and pollution.
Tourism is a large plastic waste emitter, but also the sector that suffers the most from plastic pollution because beaches are covered in huge amounts of plastic and other garbage, losing their attractiveness to tourists, affecting tourists’ experiences and activities. According to a report on a coastal monitoring programme conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 32 out of 34 beaches had a higher number of plastic debris items than the world average (18.6 pieces/m) according to statistics from Serra-Gonçalves, Lavers, and Bond in 2019.
In addition, through four survey phases in 34 beaches and 11 locations, the Coastal Clean Index shows that the majority of beaches suffer from heavy plastic pollution.
Many countries have suffered heavy losses due to plastic pollution, spending a lot of money cleaning up beaches, collecting, and disposing of plastic waste, even closing an entire beach for environmental remediation. For example, a 2009 APEC report estimated that there was $1.26 billion of damage per annum to industries in the marine economy attributable to marine debris, rising eight times to $10.8 billion in 2015.
In 2015, the direct damage cost caused by marine litter to the marine tourism industry of APEC countries was estimated at $6.41 billion, accounting for nearly 60 per cent. The estimated cost to clean up marine debris in an atoll of the Seychelles islands reached approximately $4.68 million. In Germany, removal of cigarette butts and single-use plastic cups cost over $414 million. In South Korea, $282 million was spent over five years to remove marine litter, while Japan spent $450 million over eight years to do so.
And the Thai government made the decision to no longer permit tourists to visit Maya beach on Koh Phi Phi Leh for a period of four months to overcome the consequences of environmental pollution and restore coral reefs due to too many tourists visiting, at around 4,000 visits every day.
Realising the increasing severity of plastic waste pollution, Vietnam’s tourism industry has conducted plenty of research activities. In 2019, the Vietnam Tourism Association implemented an action programme to protect the environment and minimise plastic waste with the goal of attracting more than its 5,000 members to take action to reduce plastic pollution across the country.
Vietnam’s tourism has also received helped from many international organisations in reducing plastic waste, such as the Local Solutions for Plastic Pollution project funded by USAID, and the Plastic ACTion (PACT) programme from WWF Vietnam. The PACT programme aims to directly support tourism and food and beverage businesses to reduce plastic waste, and at the same time, strengthen communication activities for tourists to attract their support and participation in plastic waste reduction activities.
Fortunately, the Law on Environmental Protection 2020 officially came into effect in January, which stipulates very heavy sanctions for acts of not classifying garbage and disposing of garbage indiscriminately with fines of VND 15-20 million ($650-870) if households do not classify household waste. The implementation of the Law on Environmental Protection on a national scale will contribute to raising the awareness of tourists.
In addition, the pandemic has also contributed to changing Vietnamese tourists’ attitudes about tourism. For example, they are more interested in sustainable tourism, avoiding crowded destinations, contributing to reducing waste, and protecting the environment.
Surveys conducted by Booking.com and Agoda.com since 2020 make that very clear. According to a survey by the former and conducted with over 1,000 Vietnamese tourists, 88 per cent of respondents said the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future. All Vietnamese travellers expressed their preference for hotels that are committed to sustainable tourism, 88 per cent wanted to reduce general waste, and 52 per cent took their own reusable water bottles instead of buying bottled water.