Just before we were ready to go to visit a floating village in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, we gathered on the upper deck of our junk boat to get an overview about the floating village and the life there. Our guide Smiley started with mentioning a little bit about some of the background information that built upon some information I already learned from reading some materials that were provided as part of our cruise. But towards the middle of his presentation, Smiley talked about the unfortunate negative impact of human settlement and now increase of tourism on the nature. Quite unexpected to hear especially in a developing country especially when the tourism industry was booming in the area.
Smiley said that as the number of tourists increased, inevitably there was impact to the nature as pollution increased, rubbish produced and polluted the environment, and the traditional lives of the locals impacted with the constant visits of guests. In many cases, others looked to profit from such increased in popularity and demand for tourism, but neglected how their actions impact the actual nature that drew the visitors to come in the first place. He said the Indochina Junk, the company that owned and operated the Dragon’s Pearl and several other boats, was working with the local government to launch a program called ‘For a Green Ha Long Bay’ which aimed at educating the locals and the tour operators to help reduce the negative impact tourism has on the nature and the lives of the locals. They helped with rubbish collection, and also educated and provided more environmentally friendly materials to use in the floating homes. He also mentioned that parts of the proceeds from our tour actually went to the village that we’re visiting.
When I heard this presentation, while on one hand I was happy to hear that we seemed to go with a tour company that was environmentally responsible, on the other hand I was wondering how sincere that was, or whether this was all just a presentation to the foreign tourists so they feel good about themselves, and potentially help market and recommend the company to other tourists. I hate to be that cynical, but I guess unless I see more visible activities (e.g., perhaps also offering a more voluntourism type trips where guests can also participate in activities that help improve the locals), it remains to be seen whether that’s all just a show or it really is because they want to be ethically responsible.
I took the photo below while Smiley was giving his presentation to our group. You can see the village we’re about to visit in the background.