A months-long campaign has yielded an astonishingly positive response from local authorities, residents, and tourists in the promotion of sustainable, eco-friendly tourism on the majestic island of Phu Quoc.
The five-month 'Phu Quoc Green Tourism' campaign, a joint project by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper and the administration of Kien Giang Province in the Mekong Delta, kicked off on August 6 and will run until the end of 2016.
The beauty of the ‘pearl island’ has led to its emergence as an Eden-like holiday retreat over recent years, leading in turn to overwhelming growth in local tourism against the backdrop of a rapid decline in clean water and rampant littering.
The green tourism campaign has already started to alleviate some of these problems, bringing about remarkable changes in environmental protection awareness amongst local authorities, tour operators, residents, and tourists, which is sure to pave the way for the 589.23 square km island, Vietnam’s largest, to grow into “an international-level hub of ecotourism.”
Improved night market
The new Phu Quoc Night Market, the result of an October merger of the island’s two must-visit nighttime shopping venues – Dinh Cau and Bach Dang – moved the two markets from hundreds of meters apart to a single cleaner, larger, and more organized space.
Like its predecessors, the new market has quickly transformed into a must-visit destination on the tourist itinerary. It is packed with visitors all year round and is one of the few recreational venues on the pristine, picturesque island.
The market, which houses over 90 stalls featuring diverse seafood specialties, culinary delights, and unique souvenirs, used to pose grave environmental concerns over the constant litter dumped by vendors and visitors directly onto streets and into rivers.
This negative attitude toward environmental protection began to change after local residents and stall owners attended an exchange with Vietnamese and Japanese tourism experts involved with the 'Phu Quoc Green Tourism' campaign.
Nguyen Ngoc Bich, the operator of a traditional kheo cake stall, constantly reminds her staff to ensure that her stall and her neighbor’s are litter-free, and that customers know where to put their trash.
Similarly, Nguyen Thi Hong Phuc, a peanut shop owner, says she has persuaded customers to avoid using plastic wrap unless absolutely necessary.
She added she will replace the nylon bags she currently uses with environmentally-friendly paper packaging in the near future.
Meanwhile, Nguyen Muoi, who runs the Mien Trung (Central Region) eatery, focuses on friendly, helpful service while keeping food hygiene as a top priority.
Tran Quoc Binh, head of Phu Quoc Night Market’s management, said his team has asked all stall owners to sign a commitment against dumping litter and wastewater directly into rivers and streets, not to replace clients’ seafood with lower-quality products, and to say ‘no’ to nylon bags.
Volunteers cycle to spread environmental protection messages in Duong Dong Town in Phu Quoc District on August 6, 2016. Photo: Tuoi Tre
The management team has also installed fifteen trash bins in front of the cuisine stalls lining Bach Dang Street, each featuring words “Give me your waste” in both Vietnamese and English, in addition to fifty-five 2m x 1m nets behind the stalls along the Duong Dong River banks to prevent waste from being discarded into the waterway.
The nets are secured on hinges to allow workers to remove any garbage that still manages to find its way behind the nets.
“After the 'Phu Quoc Green Tourism' campaign ends, the market management and stall owners will continue to ensure the market remains an eco- and tourist-friendly venue,” Binh asserted.
For an immaculate Phu Quoc
After his third trip to Phu Quoc, Tran Truong Giang, a tourist from a Mekong Delta province, said he noticed several discernible changes regarding the island’s infrastructure and environment.
“The Dinh Cau site and surrounding beaches now have much less litter,” he noticed.
“I now refrain from bringing snacks or beverages to tourist spots. It’s embarrassing when people leave litter at an immaculate site,” Giang added.
Tour operators in Phu Quoc have also expressed their wishes to keep the island, home to scores of luxury resorts, spotless.
According to Pham Manh Thuong, a representative of La Veranda Resort in Duong Dong Town, apart from adding trees to their space and clearing beaches, the resort management has also encouraged staff to partake in communal programs.
Between 40 and 50 staffers join members of Phu Quoc Xanh (Green Phu Quoc) Club in picking litter off beaches and from foreign-owned resorts on a monthly basis.
The group even uses cloth bags instead of nylon containers to collect fallen leaves.
“We’ve gone to great lengths to keep the environment in perfect conditions so that domestic and foreign tourists are persuaded not to leave any litter,” Thuong stressed.
Luong Ba Hung, acting general manager of Vinpearl Phu Quoc, a five-star resort complex of Vietnamese conglomerate Vingroup, asserted that they have always considered environmental protection a crucial component of their tourism products and services.
Vinpearl Phu Quoc is a sponsor of the green campaign.
“We have adopted emission-free, electricity-run cars and trucks. We also operate storage systems for daily use on toxic trash within our premises across Phu Quoc,” he said.
A synchronous processing system has also been in place to recycle wastewater into water for irrigation purposes, and will be upgraded to churn out water for daily consumption in the future, Hung elaborated.