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Tourism affects, directly or indirectly, many of us in Vietnam. That number of ‘us’ is also increasing because tourism is one of the biggest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world, contributing nearly 6% of the globe’s GDP. Tourism is so important the UN has declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.


Whether you build roads, create operas, pump oil, sketch designs for sofas, make loans or preserve handicrafts, let alone run a hotel or give walking tours, visitors have an impact on your daily activities. The Vietnam Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism wants to hit US$30 billion in revenue within the next four years, marking a 100 percent increase over last year’s US$15 billion income.


Responsible Tourism


There are positive development impacts to be had with the hospitality and tourism sector. At a recent ASEAN Women’s Forum, we discussed the intersection between corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, shared value and hospitality and tourism, leading to the creation of a policy report for presentation at a larger ASEAN forum on ecotourism. We were women working in nonprofit, social enterprise, banking, tourism and IT, to name a few, but the outcome was a united voice: Tourism (and women’s leadership in that sector) can and does support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


Let’s take just one of the SDGs (and there are 17), say, Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere. Tourism fosters socioeconomic development through good old-fashioned job creation. Make this job creation equitable and you’ve got a sure-fire recipe for meeting national poverty reduction goals via entrepreneurship and small business. All of that leads to increased access for typically marginalised groups such as youth and women. (And that also helps deliver Goal 5, which in turn supports Goal 8 and you see what I mean.)


This is why responsible tourism initiatives are to be applauded, for they cover environmental, architectural and cultural protection, as well as social protection. Social protection is paramount because it means observing codes of conduct that every one of us can also do as individuals, not just the hotels and travel agencies.




ChildSafe is a global child and youth protection system established by Friends-International, an NGO in Cambodia. You may have heard of the movement via their ‘Children are not tourist attractions’ campaign, but there is also a ChildSafe hotel and restaurant initiative. Check Friends’ register to see if where you’re eating and spending the night has signed up.


You can take the hotel commitment a step further. TraffickCam is an excellent way to be an important part of anti-trafficking initiatives. Trafficking is on the rise in Vietnam says the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with a third of all trafficked women and children coming from Southeast Asia. You take four simple shots of your hotel room and help police around the world. By uploading your photos you’re adding to TraffickCam’s growing global database used to track movement in labour and sex trafficking.


Face-to-Face Diplomacy


The UN World Tourism Organization (WTO) has a global code of ethics and includes one of my favourite principles, namely Article 2: Tourism as a vehicle for individual and collective fulfilment. This article lays out the role of gender equality and non-exploitation of the elderly, differently abled and children, among others. But this collective fulfilment also points to the value of cultural exchange to deepen and strengthen empathy, tolerance and respect for diversity, the very building blocks of just and equitable societies.


Tourism is not the answer to eliminating poverty, but it can and does make a powerful contribution — there’s a good reason why this industry is called ‘face-to-face diplomacy’.


Me? It’s all about that WTO contentment principle. I’m encouraging everyone I meet to take more holidays.


Dana McNairn is the CEO of KOTO, an award-winning non-profit social enterprise and vocational training programme for at-risk youth

Photo by Nick Ross

Dana McNairn

For the last ten years Dana McNairn has worked for NGOs on the frontline of human rights and gender-based violence, as well as INGOs such as the Canadian Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. She is the CEO of KOTO, an award-winning nonprofit social enterprise and vocational training programme for at-risk and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam.

Website: danamcnairn.com

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