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With New Organization, Tour Operators Hope to Boost Environmental Sustainability in Vietnam

With international tourist arrivals to Vietnam set to reach a record-breaking 13 million people this year and a booming domestic tourism market, it is more important than ever for companies in this sector to be mindful of their impact on the environment.

Almost every week there is another story about the extensive damage tourism development is doing to beautiful natural areas such as Sapa, Phu Quoc and Tam Dao. One recently formed group is hoping to reverse this trend.

IMPACT Vietnam has been spearheaded by Nick Wade, assistant manager at Khiri Travel, and Alexandra Michat-Roux, foundation manager & regional sustainability coordinator at Exo Travel. Both of the above companies operate in several Asian countries and extensively within Vietnam.

On November 30, Wade, Michat-Roux and about a dozen representatives from other local tourism operators held the first IMPACT meeting. The organization intends to share, support and innovate responsible, sustainable tourism in Vietnam.

“We talked about trying to set something up in Vietnam, and in Ho Chi Minh City specifically, where like-minded individuals that work for like-minded companies can come together and share, in a non-competitive way, their ideas for sustainability for Vietnam and best practices that are more business-focused,” Wade explained during a presentation at the gathering.

He added: “Doing it on your own as one company is limited, whereas if all of us come together and work on projects then hopefully there’s more scope to have a wider, bigger impact on Vietnam.”

Tour operator representatives work on action plans at the first IMPACT meeting. Photo courtesy of IMPACT.

In the weeks since that meeting, the IMPACT members have set up three committees comprised of members from different tourism companies to lead three projects in 2018.

One is an initiative to bring a program called Refill My Bottle to Vietnam. The effort, which began on Bali and has spread to several other Indonesian islands and one location in southern Thailand, sets up refill stations at various businesses so that visitors can simply refill their water bottle, instead of throwing it out and buying another one.

Another project will set up Precious Plastic in the country. This global community brings people together to share knowledge, tools and techniques to combat plastic pollution. The free resource helps people and companies learn how to effectively recycle plastic by, for example, creating new, useful objects with old plastic.

Finally, the third committee is working to establish best practices for tourism companies to follow. According to Wade, this will “involve looking at sustainability in the tourism industry and finding ways that we can set benchmarks across the industry, as well as assisting each other in improving our own sustainability.”

Progress is already being made towards these goals, as several groups and one of the city’s top universities are interested in getting involved in Precious Plastic, while social groups want to launch Refill My Bottle in Saigon before expanding to the rest of Vietnam.

IMPACT’s next meeting will be held in late January, and Wade hopes to bring more like-minded companies into the sustainability tent. “It’s not about one group having a better project,” he says. “It’s about finding ways to work together.”

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