Da Nang’s Department of Transport in late April called on enterprises to invest in ships to carry between 30 and 250 passengers as part of a plan to take more visitors on the city’s Han River to Cham Island, or Cu Lao Cham in Vietnamese, 12 miles off the coast of Hoi An in central Quang Nam Province

The 2019-2021 plan did not go down well with Hoi An officials.

Nguyen Van Son, Vice Chairman of Hoi An Town, said that Da Nang must discuss this project and the opening of the route with Quang Nam.

“Cu Lao Cham is a world biosphere reserve, so the two localities have to discuss (the implications of increased tourism) with each other. Da Nang cannot unilaterally do this,” Son said.

He urged both parties to agree on a sustainable plan. Since Hoi An Town in Quang Nam would be a receiving point on the route, it needs to be involved in the planning, too, Son said.

He argued launching the route would entice more visitors, but disrupt the environmental landscape.

“Furthermore, Cham Island is not equipped with infrastructure to handle large numbers of tourists. With this knowledge in mind, Hoi An has restricted visitors and only allows 3,000 visitors a day.”

There are many businesses asking to take tourists to the island, but the Quang Nam government has refused permission, Son added.

Cham Island, with a population of around 3,000 people, is a cluster of eight islands. In 2003, the Cu Lao Cham Nature Reserve was established to preserve wildlife on the island, which was recognized by the UNESCO as a world biosphere reserve in 2009.

Nguyen Van Vu, deputy director of the management board of Cham Island, said that tourism development on the island has been determined by the Quang Nam government on the grounds of ecotourism which should ensure protection of the environment and indigenous culture; and the community as a whole should benefit. He stressed the importance of putting the interests of the locals first and on stressing quality over quantity.

The opening of the Han River – Cham Island tourism route planned by Da Nang City, Vu continued, will put the Cham Island Nature Reserve in a perilous position, because it is impossible to control more than 3,000 tourists a day.

“These risks could destroy the development strategy of the reserve, create environmental problems like the lack of fresh water in the summer and more waste, and exhaust marine resources due to illegal exploitation,” he said.

Dinh Van Thu, Chairman of Quang Nam Province, agreed with Son, adding that currently, the utilities on the island were insufficient to meet the demands of a large number of tourists.

He said Hoi An should regulate the number of visitors to Cham Island. “The provincial leaders together with Hoi An will sit together and see if the route is feasible and then listen to Da Nang’s opinions before arriving at a final decision.” 

Nguyen Xuan Binh, deputy director of Da Nang Tourism Department, said that the route was only in the planning phase and Da Nang will discuss and coordinate closely with Quang Nam on how to organize the service to serve visitors. 

“It will be ensured that tourism growth will not happen at the expense of the biosphere reserve and the island’s infrastructure.”