PROFILE: Statia Elliot — Sustainable tourism in Vietnam

HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM — Vietnam’s tourism is up 28 per cent for the first nine months of 2017. But too much tourism has its downside, Statia Elliot discovered.

Statia Elliot with Quách Thanh Toàn, head, Tour Guide Program, SHTC.

Statia Elliot with Quách Thanh Toàn, head, Tour Guide Program, SHTC.

CITY, VIETNAM — Vietnam’s tourism increased a whopping 28 per cent in the
first nine months of 2017 compared to the same period last year. But if it’s
not done with sustainability in mind, too much tourism can degrade the very
resources that attract tourists in the first place.

That’s the
message Statia Elliot, director
of the School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management, University of
Guelph, wanted to share as a volunteer at the TourismSaigon Hospitality College for “an amazing
three-week experience through a program called Leave4Change.”

Leave4Change offers faculty and staff of participating organizations the chance to undertake a short-term volunteer assignment in a developing country. Participants volunteer their talents, skills, and experience to build capacity in a local partner organization while learning about international cooperation first-hand.

Elliot spent three weeks
in July and August in hot and humid Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon). It
was the rainy season, but in Vietnam that means there was a regular downpour
for about 20 minutes each day around 4 p.m.

“The temperature was in
the high 30s. I had to adjust to the temperature and a different culture, but
it was all part of the wonder of the trip,” Elliot said.

Statia Elliot with students from Saigon Tourist Hospitality College.

Statia Elliot with students from Saigon Tourist Hospitality College.

Her mandate was to work
with the Tour Guiding Program at Saigon Tourist Hospitality College, which
offers applied programs to students interested in careers in hospitality
including, Front Desk Management, Culinary Management and Hotel Management, in
addition to the Tour Guiding Program.

She was interested “not
just in new tourism related content, but also how to teach tourism in the
classroom.  I wanted to teach tourism
from the broader perspective of sustainable or responsible management
practices,” she said.

“The growth of tourism can cause issues of overcrowding. I saw pollution at a
few of the beach areas, the beautiful resources that attract tourism.
Overtourism can lead to decreases in quality including pollution, more hotels
on the waterfront, tourists dropping water bottles, more cars and buses and
more parking lots. The very resources that are at the heart of the industry can
decrease in quality,” she added.

Elliot wanted emulate
what they’re doing at University of Guelph — looking to the new generation of
students to improve the industry and take it into the future in a more
sustainable way. “It’s not just about the pretty pictures in the guidebook —
there is a downside to overdevelopment,” she said.

During her stay, Elliot
met with general managers of the Sheraton Saigon and Marriott Renaissance Riverside
hotels. As she gazed out the window of the Renaissance, she noticed that there
was a big hotel being built right across the street.  At that point, the GM shared with her that
the half dozen luxury hotels in Saigon will double in numbers over the next
five years.

“Vietnam needs to attract
really top talent to address this growth,” said Elliot, adding there’s an
upside to this equation.  “I am hoping
University of Guelph can send some quality training graduates internationally.”

The experience was truly
life changing for Elliot. “I’ve worked in tourism and hospitality for close to
30 years, and I thought I had a lot of knowledge to share,” she said.  “But I’ve always worked in the context of Canada,
a developed country.  Not everything translates
to developing countries.  For example,
Saigon does not have a recycling program, and the government is Communist.

“I was out of my comfort
zone in a completely different world, and I had to rethink hospitality,” she

But she said it’s easy to
see why tourism is burgeoning in Vietnam. “The Vietnamese people are the most
hospitable people I have ever met. They are warm, generous and friendly. It
made my experience very memorable — I was treated so well during that
three weeks. It was hard to leave and I do hope to go back.”