Spiritual tourism in Vietnam - impacts on the local environment
In Vietnam, going to pagodas and temples is integrated in the culture of the people, becoming a big part of their lifestyle. In recent years, spiritual tourism has become more popular with multi-million dollars projects across the whole country, attracting million of visitors.
At the beginning of the 2023 new year, spiritual tourism destinations were always crowded with thousands of people visiting daily. In Hanoi alone, Perfume Pagoda attracted more than 30,000 visitors, Imperial Citadel of Thang Long attracted 3,300 tourists or The Soc Temple relic welcomed nearly 10,000 people per day from the Lunar New Year to the full moon of January.
The era of spiritual tourism
Spiritual tourism is nowadays expressed in different levels and forms. The first type is sightseeing and sightseeing activities at religious and belief establishments, which is also the most popular activity today. Secondly, it is to find places, belief and religious establishments, besides sightseeing, to worship and pray. Thirdly, it is to learn the philosophies and teachings at religious establishments that make people calm, relax their mind, improve their health and feel themselves.
In Vietnam, going to pagodas and temples is integrated in the culture of the people, becoming a big part of their lifestyle. In recent years, spiritual tourism has become more popular with multi-million dollars projects across the whole country, attracting million of visitors. According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, spiritual tourists account for a large proportion of tourists. The statistics in 2019 showed that before being affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, out of 85 million domestic visitors, 34.85 million visitors went to spiritual sites (temples, pagodas, etc.), accounting for 42% of the total number of visitors. Some destinations received a large number of visitors such as Hung Temple Historic Site (more than 7 million visitors), Perfume Pagoda (over 1.5 million visitors), Yen Tu (about 1 million visitors), Ba Chua Xu Mountain Temple Sam An Giang (over 5 million visitors), etc.
Most spiritual tourism projects request very large land area, with thousands of hectares of space, however, the actual construction area of the spiritual area is very small, and the rest is to build accompanying service areas for business. At Tam Chuc pagoda, the scale of the work is 4,000 ha, of which only 1,205 ha are built for the spiritual area, the rest is water surface land and land for construction of amusement parks. Or Cai Trap island spiritual tourist area has an area of 450 hectares, of which the spiritual area is just over 88 hectares, the rest for the service area is 108 hectares, in which it is planned to build villas, sailors club, casino, etc.
As most projects are located in areas with stunning natural beauty, many people are strongly concerned about the environmental risks, including deforestation, local pollution and others. More seriously, many project investors are even carrying out the projects illegally without having all the required documents, destroying hundreds of hectares of forests to build the infrastructure.
For example, the construction project of Dai Tung Lam Hoa Sen spiritual tourist area in Da Huoai district, illegally constructed 30 solid items, including roads, houses and other items. In addition, the business was also determined to have dug a mountain along Highway 22 to get soil and rock for leveling for the project, located opposite the spiritual tourist area. Fairy Stream - located in the middle of Madagui forest, was also completely filled by this project, affecting the lives and farming of local people. The project owner is also accused of encroaching on building many works on people's land.
Or in Thach That, Hanoi, Silver Waterfall - Suoi Sao tourism project carried out the construction of solid works on forest land belonging to the assigned locals, while waiting for the final approval decision from the local government. In addition, at the entrance to Silver Waterfall - Suoi Sao is the waste from the tourist area that has not been treated and spilled out onto the main road. Going further into the area, visitors are really shocked because the natural landscape here has been severely damage, where all the previous buildings such as the rockery, grasslands, and hills have disappeared. Silver Waterfall - Suoi Sao is littered with sandy soils, due to indiscriminate digging from the owner, along with the hills that are split in half and bare without any tree, hence there is a very high risk of landslides.
Besides, other activities from visitors could also seriously harm the environment, from waste generated during the visit, transportation, waste from items for praying, paper burning, etc. A huge amount of waste such as food containers, mineral water bottles, plastic bags, packagings, fruits, etc. are normally found at temples and pagodas. It is also estimated that every year Vietnamese people spend about 5,800 billion VND to buy votive paper, equivalent to 60,000 tons of votive paper. Many experts have also said that votive paper uses recycled paper, contains solids and toxic chemicals, so when burned, it will release a large amount of toxic dust to the environment.
Another issue is the release of animals. According to the teachings of Buddhism, freeing animals is to save an animal that is in danger of life, for example about to be killed, trapped in fear or tortured to release it back to the wild. However, many people now think that buying a lot of birds, snails, fish, etc and releasing them on full moon days and holidays is "accumulating blessings" for themselves and their families, so after the ceremony, when people release them into rivers and lakes, these creatures are quite weak or dead, causing further pollution. Stronger animals will be caught again, serving the human "catch and release" circle. When the demand for "freeing" is greater, the supply will also increase. People strengthen bird traps, use electric jacks to catch fish, and the markets for birds and creatures released from there have also increased.
A sustainable future for spiritual tourism
Spiritual tourism has great potentials to achieve a sustainable growth, contributing to the development of the local economy and standard of living while minimising the negative impacts on the environment.
In order to further promote the strengths of spiritual tourism in the localities, thereby increasing the income of people in the area, experts believe that it is necessary to develop synchronously types of spiritual - ecological tourism - resort to retain visitors longer and facilitate tourists to spend more. The government also aims to review planning for land used for tourism projects with religious and spiritual elements on the principle of compliance with the provisions of law, to save and avoid waste of land resources, and ensure the harmony of economic efficiency - society with religious and spiritual factors of the people.
In addition, mobilising investment resources could improve transport infrastructure connecting spiritual destinations and resorts to serve the needs of tourists and attract strategic investors in this type of tourism. It can also be seen that the consciousness of each visitor plays an extremely important role in contributing to the protection of the environment, the protection of the natural landscape and the sacred temples.