Warning against Commercialization of Spiritual Tourism

10:22:39 AM | 3/14/2019

Spiritual tourism, a popular form of tourism, is clearly a lucrative pie that all investors want to bite into. But, spiritual tourism commercialization, particularly building gigantic projects, must have long-term and methodical strategies to avoid the spoiling natural scenery and cultural and religious identities of the nation.

Spiritual tourism - Delicious pie to all investors

The advent of Tet or Lunar New Year also starts the festival season. In early 2018, the flock of millions of tourists to the Yen Tu tourist area caused traffic congestion and Quang Ninh province started to collect sightseeing fees which were worth about VND70 billion a year.

Although the investment fund for each spiritual tourism project is quite large, it generates a huge source of income after inauguration. Therefore, investing in spiritual tourism, particularly super spiritual projects, is always attractive to big investors.

Dai Nam Quoc Tu Temple in Dai Nam tourist complex (Binh Duong province) is a typical example. Covering ​​more than 500 ha, the complex consists of the sea, lakes, mountains and walls and the most important highlights are Dai Nam Quoc Tu Temple and Bao Son Mountain Range. Particularly, the 40-ha spiritual tourism section is located in the heart of the complex, including many temples, statues, embossments, sacred objects, two relics from India and a collection of 1,068 family lines of 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam. The project cost up to VND6 trillion (US$265 million). Each year, it serves four million visitors and collects over VND1,200 (US$55 million) of revenue.

Bai Dinh Pagoda in Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex in Ninh Binh province is one typical spiritual tourism investment project. The Bai Dinh Pagoda complex covers 1,700 ha, consisting of two pagodas, cultural parks, Buddhist academies, reception areas, landscape parks, roads, sightseeing parks, and Dam Thi Lake. This place has emerged as a spiritual tourism phenomenon with many top-ranking features. With its scale and landscape, this pagoda complex receives tens of thousands of visitors a day and millions a year, thus playing an important role in tourism development of Ninh Binh province. Especially, by only the 9th day of the lunar year of the Year of the Pig 2019, Ninh Binh had welcomed about 958,000 tourists, 3.7% higher than a year ago, including 42,000 foreign tourist arrivals, a year on year growth of 13%.

Many investment projects have been invested in spiritual tourism because of its attractiveness. Recently much-talked Tam Chuc - Ba Sao Pagoda (Ha Nam province) drew a lot of visitors in early 2019 despite its incomplete construction. The pagoda was scheduled to be built over 30 years. Upon its completion, this will become the largest pagoda in the world, covering up to 5,000 ha and having 1,200 Buddhist statues made from volcanic lava in addition to world-renowned treasures.

Not only helping draw tourists, these super spiritual tourism projects also bring a huge source of income from sightseeing fees and other travel services such as meal, accommodation, entertainment and relaxation. Dai Nam Tourist Complex charges VND100,000 per adult and VND50,000 per child, while Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex issue visiting tickets of VND200,000 and VND100,000, respectively. Hence, each of these projects can collect about VND1 trillion a year just from selling tickets.

New construction or conservation?

Although spiritual tourism brings in great benefits, whether these places keep the “spiritual soul” or not is a matter of concern. Succeeding in sustainable and effective spiritual tourism development is a hard nut to crack for authorities and people.

Before the wave of investment in spiritual tourism, many specialists and authorities raised warnings when the press spread the information that Xuan Truong Company proposed building 1,000-ha Huong Son Spiritual Tourism Complex with a lot of majestic items in the renowned Perfume Pagoda in My Duc district, Hanoi.

Dr. Phan Dang Long, Former Deputy Director of the Hanoi Commission for Propaganda and Education under the Municipal Party Committee, said, “Perfume Pagoda is a Vietnamese cultural and religious complex, consisting of dozens of Buddha pagodas, god temples and communal houses featuring long-standing agricultural religions. Competent authorities must be very careful with planning and construction processes to avoid making strong impacts and spoiling the landscape structure to harm the sacredness of this place. Pilgrims flock to this site not only because it is a nationally and internationally renowned spiritual tourist destination, but also because it is a specially national monument and landscape.

The specialty of Perfume Pagoda is the natural landscape, mountains, monuments, Yen Stream and many rock formations that once lost will be never recovered.

Mr. Nguyen Trong Tue, Chairman of Thang Long - Hanoi Feng Shui Club, also said, “The underground current of Huong Tich, Hoa Lu and Trang An belongs to a branch of Thang Long Imperial Citadel. In other words, they are national ley lines that need to be protected from undesired impacts. In addition, this investment may also affect the culture, history, natural landscape, geomancy and spirituality of these Buddhist sites that people far and wide in the country want to visit. Therefore, building new pagodas or other items is not as good as preserving them.”

Dr. Le Quy Duc from the Culture and Development Institute added, “Perfume Pagoda is a long-standing cultural heritage of Vietnamese people, linked to the spiritual life of many generations. So, any intervention in this heritage must be considered carefully. It is imperative to ensure that respecting the status quo of the heritage is the most important condition and whether the huge investment for this heritage is necessary or not. Even being invested, heritage development must match the guidance of the Party and the State.”

It is obvious that spiritual tourism investment, especially by building super projects, is always a delicious pie that all investors want to bite into. Nevertheless, longstanding spiritual culture, beliefs, relics and heritages that once lost cannot be brought back by any means. For that reason, the socialization of spiritual tourism needs to be carefully considered and calculated to avoid inappropriate projects and loss of traditional identity.

Giang Tu