Nothing is better described by that old idiom, swings and roundabouts, than tourism. It’s essential for the survival and development of countless communities around the world; but every bit a destructive menace to just as many others.
Vietnam, for the most part, is still in that golden era where tourism is on the increase, and most areas are yet to be irreversibly de-cultured by its impact. Over the last eight months, around 7.5 million tourists visited Vietnam; an increase of nearly 30% over the same period last year.
A Global Issue
Tourism, and more specifically, its detrimental effect, is making international headlines more than ever before.
“Imagine living with this crap,” was one eye-catching title from a Guardian story about the frustration of Venetians who are seeing their quality of life eroded, as visitor numbers to Venice continue to soar.
“Tourists go home,” began an article in the same vein on BBC News, about angry Catalans fed up with the 18 million tourists who made Catalonia the most popular region of Spain for tourism in 2016.
In Italy, tourists to Rome are now banned from snacking around its ancient fountains. Anyone plonking themselves down on the steps of Florence’s Santa Croce Basilica now face a battalion of street cleaners armed with high-powered water hoses.
Reuters published a story in 2009 about Cambodians being forcibly evicted from their fishing villages by government authorities, to make room for foreign-built luxury resorts.
Rio de Janiero’s romantic Ipanema beach, once the subject of songs and fantasies, has a new variety of semi-permanent resident, one that the Cariocas (Rio’s locals) are less than impressed by.
“They drink. A lot,” said local man Alexandre Conceicao to New Zealand-based Stuff, in a 2016 interview about foreign tourists. “They get so drunk on caipirinhas, they fall asleep on the beach and their friends have to carry them home.”
A Local Issue
So what about Vietnam? The following opinions and stories come from Vietnamese who work (or have worked) in the tourism, hospitality and F&B industries in Hanoi, with a bit of foreign feedback mixed in for good measure.
To protect those individuals who are still working in those industries, all names have been changed.
“There are many wholesale shops in the Old Quarter which get bothered by tourists, who spend so much time in the shop and try to bargain for everything; that’s not how wholesale works. We don’t want people like that,” says Mr S.
“Brits come to get drunk, Asians just care about shopping and selfies, and Americans think everyone should speak English,” says Mr H.
“Tourists think everything is cheap here. When I sell tours, no matter how cheap the tour is, they never think it’s cheap enough; they want something like US$30 for a three-day tour to Halong Bay with a perfect French-speaking guide. With that money, they might just get some good ice cream in their home country,” says Ms O.
“Germans ask too many questions, the Spanish are cheap, the French are obnoxious, Americans are arrogant and Brits are just awful — they drink too much, get up late for tours and moan at everything,” says Ms J.
“I like Japanese tourists,” says Ms C. “They are quiet and hardly give any negative feedback; at least not until they’re home and can email the GM.”
“I was in a temple, and bumped into some very loud Chinese tourists. They were so, so loud. Even people with limited awareness understand you should be silent and respectful in a temple. I politely asked one of them to lower her volume; she shouted at me even louder in Chinese, and then her friends surrounded me, pushed me and kept shouting. I walked off, but even after getting 200m away, I could still hear their voices,” says Mr B.
“Foreign backpackers very often shout late at night in the street; usually they are Australians,” says Mr P. “When they get drunk, they can be louder than Vietnamese or Chinese.”
“Too much complaining from too many ungrateful people,” says Mr Q. “Without tourism, this country would crumble.”
“We always want to share our culture with others, especially those who only associate our country with one historical event,” says Ms Y. “But it’s important that people learn a bit about our culture before they come, so they don’t offend or annoy local people. That’s what makes people hate tourists. But it’s so easy to prevent.”
“I’ve seen Brits drink more than I thought was possible for a human,” says Ms W. “They always cause problems. Not just in Hanoi. Everywhere.”
Vietnamese Tourists Abroad
“Many of us are noisy,” says Ms T. “Sorry, we can’t help it; we learnt from the best.”
“Unless we can speak the language, we’ll just be huddled together with the Chinese,” says Mr H.
“They spit and litter, steal and overstay,” says Mr L. “Our reputation has been tainted.”
“I’ve been in hotels around the world that actually have posters up saying “No Chinese. No Vietnamese. Thank you,” says Mr R.
“Many of us (like me!) always try to do the right thing,” adds Ms V, “so I won’t humiliate Vietnam too much.”
“Vietnamese hotel guests don’t care about your procedures; they just want things done right away,” says Ms C.