Tourism industry responses to the rise of sustainable tourism and related environmental policy initiatives: the case of Hue City, Vietnam
Bui, Duc Tinh
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Tourism is promoted by the governments of many developing countries because it offers the potential for creating jobs, thus generating income for the country and revenue for the government. However, the tourism industry can also be viewed as a destructive force, associated with negative externalities such as the loss of natural landscapes, congestion, and environmental and cultural degradation. These problems are more likely to be exacerbated where there is a lack of well-designed planning and effective management of tourism development. An essential component of any management of tourism is the ability to engage with, and get a positive response from, the tourism industry. There are a wide range of enterprises involved in providing tourist products and experiences, and in many nations, both developing and developed, a large number of these businesses are small and medium in size and tend to operate at a local scale. The informal nature of tourism enterprises in the developing world can make it difficult to spread awareness of tourism policy and to measure moves towards more sustainable performance on the part of the industry. Using the case study of tourism in the city of Hue, this thesis argues that it is essential to understand both what tourism enterprises know about sustainable tourism practice and policy and also how they respond to its adoption, if we are to more fully understand tourism and its links to sustainable economic development. Located on the central northern coast of Vietnam, Hue is well known for its cultural resources and natural beauty, and the province has become a major tourism centre in Vietnam. The city of Hue itself is recognized as having international heritage value and was listed as a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO in 1993. During the last decade, tourism revenues have increased by nearly 35% per annum, and Hue has made great efforts to both stimulate and cater for increasing demand for its tourism products and services. The Vietnamese government has introduced a number of policies designed to enhance environmental quality generally and, more specifically, to improve the sustainability of enterprises in the tourism sector. This thesis examines the degree to which tourism enterprises in the city of Hue are aware of the broad concept of sustainable tourism and of the specific legislation designed to influence the sustainability of their businesses. I examine the structure and make-up of the industry and then analyse whether characteristics such as size, ownership type and sectoral focus play a role in influencing awareness of, and response to, government policy. The research triangulates data-gathering methods: secondary data, literature reviews, semi-structured interviews and an enterprise survey are all used to gain insights into the core research questions. Each method feeds into and is strengthened by the others, and their combination (including 50 interviews and 180 survey responses) provides a robust data set to work from. The findings reveal that many of the firms operating in the Hue tourism industry are characterized by weak institutional practices, low financial capacity, poor facilities and a lack of broader awareness of policies that influence sustainable tourism practice. The tourism industry’s awareness of general sustainable development issues is low, and much business practice focuses on short-term rather than long-term perspectives. This limits the use of environmentally friendly practices by firms, especially small- and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs), in their daily business activities. The study reveals that there is no significant variation in the adoption of sustainable tourism practices according to the size of enterprises, especially if the practices in question are simple and can be introduced with cost savings. However, as the cost and complexity of introducing environmental measures increases, we see a greater ability on the part of larger enterprises to adopt such actions – partly because they are in a stronger position to bear the short-terms costs of implementing such approaches. There are a wide range of factors that constrain the Hue tourism industry from adopting more sustainable tourism practices. Internal constraints such as limited financial and human resources are combined with external constraints such as increasing cost-based competition, the lack of enforcement of government policies, and limited awareness of sustainable tourism pracitces. All of these factors play a crucial role in shaping the actions of enterprises in relation to sustainable tourism practices and policies. The results of this study also point to the fact that government sustainable tourism initiatives that rely on ‘command-and-control’ approaches will have limited effect; instead, a variety of institutional economic instruments offer greater potential to overcome deficiencies in the ability of the market to drive tourism enterprises towards more sustainable business practices. The thesis also argues that it is important to develop approaches that can cope with the special challenges attached to management of sustainable tourism development in destinations that are dominated by SMEs. The thesis contributes to the growing body of theory and literature in sustainable tourism development and tourism-enterprise behaviour. It also makes an important contribution to our understanding of tourism enterprises in the developing world. In particular, the findings add an important layer of understanding to those attempting to develop a more sustainable tourism industry in Vietnam. Specifically, it provides policy-makers with important insights into the ways in which different types of tourism enterprises respond to initiatives that relate to improved business sustainability.