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Table of Contents

Section Page

INTRODUCTION ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 2


THE MEKONG DELTA ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 3
CU CHI TUNNELS ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 3


THE MEKONG DELTA ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 4
CU CHI DISTRICT ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 6

DISCUSSION ON CONDITIONS FOR SUSTAINABLE TOURISM --------------------------------------- 8

CONCLUSION---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 9

REFERENCE LIST --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 10

Vinh Quoc Nguyen – Tourism Management - Deakin University

The Research Essay

“With reference to two or more of the case studies presented in the course guide, or
comparable case studies, identify how the different social, economic and cultural
contexts in which cultural tourism takes place can affect the outcome or sustainability of
a cultural project”


Vietnam is a developing country in transition. Its economy is undergoing a rapid change

as it moves from non-market socialism to a market economy with a socialist orientation.
Vietnam is a country with vast natural wealth, rich in natural landscapes and natural
resources, cultural and historical values, which are considered core advantages for
tourism development. In fact, the country‟s economy has witnessed a rapidly expanding
tourism sector, with a growth rate of over 17% in recent years (Vietnam Tourism, 2008).
This essay intends to look into cultural tourism development in two case studies in South
Vietnam: The Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels.

Cultural tourism in the Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnel in South Vietnam has been
identified as one of the most obvious economic development opportunities for the
regions. The potential for cultural tourism development in the two destinations is large.
They are spectacular attractions for tourists, in terms of cultural values and natural
landscapes. However, there are issues that need to be considered in developing
sustainable tourism in the places. Cooper (1998) recognised that sustainable development
is inherently strategic and must involve collaboration of social, economic, cultural and
environmental forces in working towards a common goal. In reviewing the tourism
aspects of the destinations, this essay will outline the cultural values and characteristics,
and analyse how cultural tourism is developed in such social, economic and cultural
contexts. Hence, it will provide proper understanding of the contemporary tourism scene
and conditions for long-term development in the case study areas.

Vinh Quoc Nguyen – Tourism Management - Deakin University

Significance of Cultural Values and Tourism Potential

The Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta is the bottom half of Vietnam's two rice baskets, the other being the
Red River Delta in the North (Vietnam Guide Book, 2004). The people of South Vietnam
are very proud of the richness and vastness of this land. When referring to the rice fields
in this area, they often say, "co bay thang canh", meaning the land is so large that the
cranes can stretch their wings as they fly (Vietnam Travel, 2008). The region is rich in
flora and fauna and is the highest producer of rice crops, vegetables and fruit orchards of
the whole country (Vietnam Guide Book, 2004).

The Mekong Delta is divided into 9 provinces: Long An, Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Dong
Thap, An Giang, Vinh Long, Kien Giang, Hau Giang and Minh Hai. The people in this
region are made up of Vietnamese and some people of Khmer, Chinese and Cham origins
(Vietnam Travel, 2008). This accounts for the variety of religions that add to the cultural
diversity of this area. Among the religions practised here are Buddhism, Catholicism,
Cao Dai, Hoa Hao and Islam (Vietnam Guide Book, 2004). People of different religions
participate in the annual regional festivals and events such as the Mekong river rowing,
harvest fests, fruit festivals, amateur music etc.

As described, the Mekong Delta is obviously attractive to tourists with its beauty of
splendid nature, culture, traditions and religions. Visitors will be astonished by the daily
life and cultural activities of local residents on the floating markets. Vietnam‟s Mekong
delta is a magnificent destination for ecological and cultural tourism (Vietnam Tourism,

Cu Chi Tunnels

Construction of the Cu Chi Tunnels began in 1948, so that the Viet Minh could hide from
French air and ground sweeps. Each hamlet built its own underground communications
route through the hard clay, and over the years the separate tunnels were slowly and

Vinh Quoc Nguyen – Tourism Management - Deakin University

meticulously connected and fortified (Vietnam Guide Book, 2004). By 1965, during the
escalating American war, there were over 200 kilometers of connected tunnels. This
whole site was the shelter and hideout of the Viet Cong in the war against the Americans
(Biles, Lloyd & Logan, 1999). As the tunnel system grew, so did its complexity. The long
tunnels were little more than one meter high and 80 centimeters wide, and were used to
house and feed the growing number of residents and rudimentary hospitals created to
treat the wounded (Vietnam Guide Book, 2004). The history of the tunnels is of great
significance. The local residents‟ and soldiers‟ lives in harshness and hardship under the
tunnels, particularly during the U.S campaigns against the tunnels during the long war,
conveyed the whole country‟s spirit and struggle for peace and independence.

The historic and cultural values of the Cu Chi tunnels are highly significant and are living
evidence of „the Vietnamese endurance and sacrifice‟ for the nation‟s liberty (Vietnam
Guide, 2004). Today the 125-mile-long complex of tunnels at Cu Chi has been preserved
by the government and turned into a war memorial park. The tunnels are a popular tourist
attraction, and visitors are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnel system
to experience part of the historic story.

Discussion on Tourism Development in Different Contexts

The Mekong Delta

The majority of people in the Mekong delta are low-income earners. The advantage of
the vast and fertile land makes farming the main source of people‟s income. Vu (2008)
reported that infrastructure deficits such as clean water, electricity, roads, schools,
institutions hinder economic development in the region. In addition, the educational level
of the local people is relatively low compared to other parts of the country. Families with
poor living conditions cannot afford their children‟s education. Therefore, the un-skilled
population is high (Vu, 2008). Further, unavailability of vocational training schools
contributes to the shortage of skilled human resources, in particular economic
development such as the tourism sector (Vu, 2008). It is indisputable that sustainable
human resources help develop the industry successfully (Vu 2008).
Vinh Quoc Nguyen – Tourism Management - Deakin University
With the advantages of excellent natural resources, tourism has long been exploited in the
Mekong delta. However, tourism promotion of the region by the government and tourism
authorities has not been effective (Sagemueller, 2008). There are just 18 travel companies
from Ho Chi Minh City operating in the Mekong Delta (Vietnam Tourism, 2008). Can
Tho is the biggest city in the delta and the tourism centre, but has only one company
supplying international travel services. “Six Mekong Delta provinces do not have any
international travel companies, including Long An, Bac Lieu, Ca Mau, Hau Giang, Tra
Vinh and Soc Trang,” said Mr. Vu The Binh, Head of the Travel Agency. As a result, the
number of international and domestic visitors to the Mekong Delta is very modest. Even
Korean and Japanese visitors, who account for the highest numbers of foreign tourists to
Vietnam, do not know about the attractions of this region yet (Vu, 2008). In fact, there
are many challenges to tourism development in the Mekong delta. Vu (2008) asserted
that these are due to ineffective development policies by the relevant authorities. Vu
(2008) further stressed that diversity in tourism products is a key factor for success.
However, this factor seems not to be emphasised in development strategies. Thus, tourist
visitation to the destinations is not increasing because tourists‟ expectations and
experiences are not satisfied.

Mass tourism in the Mekong delta has been exploited by tour companies, offering tours
of similar features such as short-day river tours on floating markets and orchard visits.
These have been the typical products of most travel companies. According to Horner and
Swarbrooke (2004), mass tourism can cause damage to the environment and its natural
resources. Tour operators take advantage of the destination resources to make quick
returns on investment, and therefore, intensive environmental development over the long
term is ignored (Horner and Swarbrooke 2004). Consequently, tourism in the Mekong
delta has not created social, economic and environmental benefits to local people such as
employment opportunities, stable incomes and a green and clean environment for living.
The poor people have not had access to local employment in tourism. Mass river tours
have caused erosion on both riverbanks and created waste and rubbish in the water due to
careless tourists. In addition, the Mekong Delta‟s tourism has not incorporated the
cultural values, traditions and diversity of religions in its development, according to

Vinh Quoc Nguyen – Tourism Management - Deakin University

Sagemueller (2008). This is important to sustainability because these factors help
preserve the community‟s culture and traditions, and create numerous benefits for the

The great potential in the region‟s cultural tourism has not been properly developed. In a
recent conference, entitled „Potential and Development Opportunity in Mekong Delta‟ in
Can Tho city, Sagemueller, General Director of the Europe-Indochina Institute for
Tourism, said, “the Mekong Delta can be seen as one of the most attractive tourist
destinations in Asia with beautiful natural landscapes, but it may soon lose this advantage
due to non effective development strategies. And it takes years to reinstate those precious
values”. Critically, the tourism authorities need to review development strategies for
sustainable tourism. It is necessary for tourism development to be aimed at the
community, particularly the poor population (Donovan, 2008). Sagemueller (2008)
argued that tourism activities in the Mekong Delta do not reflect its great potential and
available resources. There have not been linkages between the advantages of natural
landscape tours and cultural activities in the local community, such as local cuisine,
hospitality, traditional music, harvest fests, fishing and other water activities. Therefore,
cultural values as the core advantages of the Mekong Delta have been neglected in
tourism development.

Cu Chi District

In comparison to other suburban districts of Ho Chi Minh City, Cu Chi district is

characterised by a high degree of inequality, in terms of infrastructure and economic
development (Huynh, 2008). The lack of intensive investment in infrastructure by the
central government is a disadvantage to stimulate economic development in Cu Chi
district, according to Huynh (2008). In addition, tourist services such as banks, internet,
hotels and quality restaurants are insufficient. On the other hand, the Cu Chi historic
tunnels have faced other pressures from rapid urbanisation and industrialization. Cu Chi
district is one of the closest suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City. This city has a population of
more than 8 million and is over-populated. It is true that the need for urbanisation and
Vinh Quoc Nguyen – Tourism Management - Deakin University
housing expansion over its suburbs is underway. Cu Chi district has been aimed for
substantial development by Ho Chi Minh City‟s strategies because expansion solutions in
other districts nearby, such as Thu Duc, Hoc Mon, have basically been resolved (Huynh,
2008). Moreover, due to the economic development pressure of Cu Chu district, the local
government has called for major investments in infrastructure and manufacturing
industries to create employment opportunities in the locality (Huynh, 2008). Therefore,
there have been many projects underway in the district, such as industrial parks and
residential zones. The impacts on the tunnels‟ site from infrastructure development and
engineering construction in connection with the industrial projects will be unavoidable. In
addition, the natural environment in the place will be threatened when large areas of
agricultural land and rubber plantations are cleared to give space for basic building, such
as roads, sewage system and water supply system and construction of the projects. It is
argued that the whole complex of Cu Chi Tunnels can be protected from any impacts as
such and the site can be well conserved and sustained in a condition of increasing

The Cu Chi tunnels are open for tourists to visit the war memorial site. The tunnels have
a drawing power because of their historical significance, which attracts most tourists to
the place. Cu Chi tunnels are advertised as one of the main tourist attractions in the south.
However, tourists‟ activities are limited to a few hours‟ stop at the tunnels‟ site, including
crawling through the tunnels to experience part of the Viet Cong soldiers‟ lives during the
American war. In addition, adventurous tourists can experience the firing range with
guided bullet shooting on site in the spirit of the Cu Chi battle zone (Vietnam Tourism,
2008). As a result, this destination, with the site‟s limited experiences, does not have a
holding power to attract tourists to stay longer. There are several advantages of this
southern region, such as rubber tree plantations, tropical fruit gardens, and livestock
farming, together with local traditional trades and crafts, which could contribute to a
diversity of tourism products. But these advantages have not been concerned in tourism,
and therefore, there is not an involvement by the local residents in any aspects of tourism
development (Huynh, 2008).

Vinh Quoc Nguyen – Tourism Management - Deakin University

Discussion on Conditions for Sustainable Tourism

In this review of tourism development at the two Vietnamese tourism sites, it is clear that
cultural values are not fully appreciated and strategically exploited by tourism operators
for long-term sustainability. The potential for tourism that is sensitive to history, culture
and natural landscapes in the Mekong Delta and Cu Chi district is large but not being
exploited with the right strategies (Vu, 2008). As a result, tourism benefits do not belong
to the local people. This is because the residents‟ involvement in tourism is minimal. It is
critical that tourism authorities and tourism operators re-define effective development
strategies. As outlined in Donovan (2008), the core elements that are essential for
sustainability are basic services for the poor, maximised local capacity, local capacity
development funds, development in line with carrying capacity, drive for quality, variety
of clients to strengthen micro-macro linkages, partnerships for additional resources to
increase impact and governance for empowerment across all work. These conditions are
applicable to both the Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels where infrastructure upgrade,
and community involvement in all development aspects are considered to be necessary
for tourism. Tourism basic services and businesses such as souvenir products from
traditional crafts, farming produce supplies to hotels, restaurants and tourist home-stay
programs etc. should be created to involve the local people. This will help create jobs for
them and improve their incomes. In addition, Stone (2005) contends that on-site training
and employment are important to sustain the industry because the local people understand
and appreciate their culture, traditions and local practices, and hence, contribute
significantly to the businesses. By doing so, tourism activities can maximise social and
economic benefits and minimise negative impacts on the community. Further, as to the
case of the Cu Chi tunnels, sustainability requires continuing education, training,
management and research on communication methods so that profound interpretation of
the historical and cultural site can reach not only to visitors and tourists effectively but
also to future generations of the locality (Ghosh, Siddique and Gabby 2003). In other
words, sustainable tourism can only take place as long as tourism authorities and
government have appropriate development strategies and policies in place, and which
should be followed by all stakeholders. Critically, tourism operators undertake their

Vinh Quoc Nguyen – Tourism Management - Deakin University

corporate social responsibility through creating economic, social, cultural and
environmental benefits to the community.


This essay has analysed the social, economic and cultural contexts of the two
destinations, the Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels in which cultural tourism takes
place. It has outlined the issues related to sustainability in each destination, such as
infrastructure deficits, mass tourism, lack of local involvement, lack of product diversity
and ignorance of cultural values in the Mekong Delta. On the other hand, the essay has
also identified particular challenges facing tourism at the Cu Chi tunnels, for example,
rapid urbanization and industrialization. In an effort to encourage sustainable tourism, the
writer has discussed several essential conditions for long-term development in both
destinations. If these conditions are implemented these destinations will be attractive
places for tourists and will develop well with available resources and great potentials.
Thus, sustainable tourism in the Mekong Delta and Cu Chi district will not only satisfy
tourists‟ experiences and expectations but also create social, economic, cultural and
environmental benefits for the host communities.


Vinh Quoc Nguyen – Tourism Management - Deakin University

Reference List

Biles, A, Lloyd, K & Logan, WS 1999, „Romancing Vietnam, the formation and function
of tourist images of Vietnam‟, in J Forshee (ed.), Converging interests, traders,
travelers and tourists in Southeast Asia, University of California Press, Berkeley
Cooper, M. 1998, A Strategic Model in Developing Sustainable Tourism in Vietnam, The
Journal of Vietnam Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1998
Donovan, T. 2008, SNV‟s Work in Sustainable Tourism in Lao PDR
Horner, S. and Swarbrooke, J. 2004, International Cases in Tourism Management, 1st
edn. Elsevier Butterworth – Heinemann, Oxford
Ghosh, RN. Siddique, MAB & Gabbay, R 2003, Tourism and Economic Development,
Athenaeum Press, Gateshead, UK.
Huynh, V.N. 2008, Cu Chi Calls for Investments, retrieved 20/10/2008
Mydans, S. 1999, Visit the Viet Cong‟s World: American Welcome, retrieved
20/10/2008 <>
Sagemueller, E. 2008 in the SGGP Newspaper, Mekong Delta Vietnam to become a
friendly destination, retrieved 20/10/2008
Stone, R.J 2005, Human Resource Management, Fifth edition by John Wiley & Son
Australia Ltd. Qld 4064
Vietnam Guide Book (online), 2008, retrieved 18/10/2008
Vietnam Tourism Net, 2008, Mekong Delta tourism needs to step it up – retrieved
Vietnam Tourism, 2008, “Tourism in Mekong Delta, retrieved 12/9/2008

Vinh Quoc Nguyen – Tourism Management - Deakin University

Assessment: 82% High Distinction
Assessor: Dr Colin Long
Date: 24 November 2008

Knowledge and Understanding:

Fulfillment of overall task intent

This was a good piece of work, fulfilling the task to a high standard

Advanced knowledge and understanding of the key issues in the relevant discipline area
This was a good piece of work. You demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the
case studies

Knowledge of scholarly convention in the interdisciplinary area of cultural heritage

studies, including those relating to publication and ethics


Ability to synthesise, analyse and critically evaluate research to make intellectual and
creative advances
You provided a good discussion of the positives and negatives

Effective communication of knowledge and understanding to audiences within or outside

the discipline area, including the wider community
The essay was generally well written

Vinh Quoc Nguyen – Tourism Management - Deakin University