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Vietnam tourism chief backs controversial Son Doong cable car system

Monday, October 12, 2015, 16:36 GMT+7

A plan to construct a cable car system to the world’s largest cave, Son Doong, which has become controversial since it was first publicized last year, has had the latest backer: the head of Vietnam’s tourism governing body.

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Located in the UNESCO-recognized Phong Nha- Ke Bang National Park in the north-central province of Quang Binh, Son Doong Cave is currently the largest, most majestic in the world, and can be considered a world-class brand for Vietnam’s tourist industry.

A cable car system may be detrimental to the environment of Phong Nha- Ke Bang as well as the caves and grottos there, which have been undisturbed for a few hundred years, according to conservationists.

But Nguyen Van Tuan, chief of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), believes there will be no such adverse impact.

“The cable car system will be located outside the [Son Doong] cave, allowing tourists to explore Phong Nha-Ke Bang from above,” Tuan told reporters at a meeting on October 9.

“There will be no impact and we approve of solutions like this.”

The tourism chief said the cable car system will allow more tourists to explore the world’s renowned cave, which is now only accessible to those who can meet certain strict requirements and have a deep pocket.

Oxalis, a Vietnamese firm, is currently the sole agency licensed by the Quang Binh administration to bring tourists to the cave, with only six tourists allowed on each tour.

These vacationers have to be supported by a team of 18, including porters, cooks, guides and experts, during the seven-day, six-night tour that costs US$3,000.

“While we encourage such a form of adventure travel, a destination like Phong Nha - Ke Bang just cannot serve merely a few hundred tourists every year like that,” Tuan said.

Vietnam is promoting Son Doong as a unique destination for adventure travelers around the world, but at the same time, “we should also try to increase the number of tourists there,” the official asserted.

“The more visitors we attract, the greater benefits it will bring to our society and businesses, as well as the entire community.”

The VNAT has worked with Quang Binh authorities to determine which caves among those at Phong Nha - Ke Bang should have limited access.

“While Son Doong and En [Swallow] Cave should be open to a limited number of visitors, there are also grottos where tourists should be encouraged to visit as many times as possible,” Tuan said.

The master plan for the development of Phong Nha – Ke Bang between 2015 and 2030, as approved by Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai on February 8, does not include any cable car system.

Tuan did not tell the meeting last week whether the VNAT will take any action to have the cable car project added to the plan.

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