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Thursday,  Jun 29,2017,15:57 (GMT+7)

Absence of common voice

Son Nguyen
Friday,  May 26,2017,22:45 (GMT+7)
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Absence of common voice

Son Nguyen

The tug of war between environment advocacy groups seeking to protect Son Tra Peninsula in the central coast city of Danang on one side and tourism authorities insisting on observing the tourism development master plan on the other is becoming all the tougher. For months on end, a war of words has dragged on, and both sides wield very strong weapons to defend their positions.

As covered in local media these days, right after the announcement of the zoning plan for Son Tra Peninsula in February, environment advocacy groups with the  Danang Tourism Association driving the bandwagon have pressed on with a campaign to protect the peninsula so as to keep it from being spoiled by irresponsible tourism development. They demand that the status quo be maintained, and petition central authorities to amend the zoning plan to this effect. And they have very good reasons to do so.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam National Administration for Tourism (VNAT) asserts that the zoning plan for the peninsula has been carefully prepared, and there is no reason whatsoever to make new changes. Dialogues, petitions, and exchange of correspondences fail to establish common ground for both sides.

The peninsula has a natural area of 4,400 hectares and boasts a strong diversity of fauna and flora, including the valuable Red Shanked Douc Langur, a species of the primate family endemic of the peninsula. Under the master zoning plan approved by the Government last November and announced by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in February, Son Tra Nature Reserve will have its area reduced to slightly over 1,800 hectares. Before the master plan was approved, Danang authorities had already licensed 14 projects to develop resorts, villas and other tourism facilities with over 5,000 rooms on a combined area of over 1,200 hectares, according to Sai Gon Giai Phong newspaper. 

However, VNAT in drafting the master plan had agreed with Danang authorities to reduce the number of hotel rooms on the peninsula to around 1,600, meaning some projects are put on hold while others get the go-ahead.

Huynh Tan Vinh, chairman of the Danang Tourism Association, criticizes the master plan as a shield for greedy investors to damage the peninsula, which is a priceless pearl of the city, according to the news site Zing.vn.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting in Hanoi between VNAT and the Danang Tourism Association, Vinh said Danang City is now has an abundance of hotel rooms, so there is no need to develop more tourist facilities in Son Tra.

“Danang City is now home to 600 hotels with 22,000 rooms, sufficient to cater to 15 million tourists a year compared to just 5.5 million in 2016,” Vinh is quoted as saying in Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper. Therefore, Son Tra should be zoned for sightseeing tours under stringent conditions, and no construction should be allowed there, he remarks.

The Danang Tourism Association recently has also forwarded a petition to the Government, requesting that the master zoning plan for Son Tra be amended to disallow construction projects there.

Meanwhile, a campaign to protect the peninsula within weeks has received over 12,000 signatures from the public, those who want to maintain the status quo on Son Tra. In addition, the Danang Young Business Association and the Danang Businesswomen Association have also voiced their backing for the campaign, according to Phap Luat newspaper.

However, the proposal by the Danang Tourism Association as well as the public has been grossly rejected by tourism authorities who want that projects under the zoning plan be allowed to continue.

At a recent closed-door meeting between the Danang Tourism Association and VNAT, tourism officials pointed out that no changes would be made to the master zoning plan as all legal steps in compiling the plan had been closely adhered to, Phap Luat reports. Given the lack of common ground, at the end of the discussion, Danang Tourism Association representatives refused to sign the minutes of the meeting.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism also protects VNAT’s standpoint. At a press conference this Tuesday, the ministry asserted that the master zoning plan had been prepared in strict compliance with legal regulations, and is in harmony with the Tourism Law, so there is no reason to make changes.

In compiling the zoning plan, the ministry has closely coordinated with all relevant agencies and bodies, including Danang authorities and 11 ministries, and “all such bodies basically agreed the zoning plan,” the ministry representative is quoted as saying in Kinh te-Do Thi.

Vinh of the Danang Tourism Association rejects the point, saying his agency was not consulted during the process of making the zoning plan.

The heated debate has drawn the attention of top leaders. The National Assembly has recently asked relevant agencies to report on all details for consideration, while Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam has urged the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to reconsider the issue. The ministry is told to “listen to all arguments relating to Son Tra Peninsula in earnest, and reconsider the issue in a scientific and objective manner,” according to the news site VnMedia.

In this protracted sizzling issue, it seems that tourism authorities in rejecting changes to the zoning plan want to speak out that they have done a good job when making the zoning plan. They do not want to see their time, effort and money spent on making the zoning plan to be wasted, let alone the huge costs that have been disbursed by tourism investors into projects on the peninsula.

Meanwhile, environment advocates and the general public cannot accept such a valuable treasure like Son Tra to be damaged by money-minded investors. In this controversy, business money and nature values are put on the direct collision course.

Tuoi Tre says that in this tradeoff, the choice between preservation and development is an old question that surfaces every time a nature reserve or a national park is encroached upon. To have a common voice for controversies at Son Tra, and others like Phong Nha-Ke Bang, Ba Vi, Con Dao, Phu Quoc, Tam Dao and Cat Ba, the approach should be to seek an agreeable harmony between preservation and development.

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