The ancient city of Hoi An was an important trading port during the Champa Kingdom that existed many centuries ago. As early as the 7th Century, the Champa who were thought to have come from Java were trading with their homeland. It was a city that set up trading links with other places as well including China, Arabs from the Middle East and also early visits from European traders. That history and the architecture in the Old Town resulted in UNESCO awarding it World Heritage Site status in 1999.
Not surprisingly, Hoi An is included in many Vietnam travel package itineraries. Tourism numbers to Vietnam are increasing year on year and in Hoi An, the authorities have launched a campaign to ensure that the citizens maintain their natural hospitality and good manners so that tourists leave with a good impression of the people as well as the place.
There is responsibility on both sides. Tourists must remember to respect the culture of Vietnam, especially the need to dress and behave appropriately at religious sites. If you are in any doubt, get advice.
The Director of the Culture and Sports Centre of Hoi An, Vo Phung, is leading the campaign which is taking a positive approach towards tourism and certainly does not concede that Hoi An is anything other than a welcoming place. It was just felt that sometimes the number of tourists in Hoi An enjoying a Vietnam holiday is putting pressure on everyone. Inevitably, wherever large numbers of people gather, there is noise and litter. Addressing simple things like that are all part of the initiative to ensure Hoi An locals remember their responsibilities.
Many historic sites around the world were never designed to take the number of visitors and tourist traffic that visit today and Hoi An is no different. The figures for the last full year say that 2.3 million tourists visited the Old Town of Hoi An which included 2 millionforeign travellers both from other parts of East Asia as well as Europe.
Vo Phung rightly identifies that Hoi An’s culture is centuries old and it is vital that some of the very things that have attracted tourists in the first place are not lost.
A survey of locals asked a number of questions and a significant number of respondents had to admit to dropping litter and honking their horns. The fact that they admitted these things and that they were asked the questions in the first place will surely get locals thinking and likely changing some habits.
In terms of what Hoi An can do in relation to the pressure of numbers, it is limited. Hoi An is regularly included in recommended Vietnam tour packages marketed by Vietnam travel agents, and rightly so. It is not practical to restrict the number of visitors to any tourist attraction so the hope is that Vo Phung’s survey and initiative will make a positive impact within the lovely town.