Over the past two decades, eight sites and eight cultural practices in Vietnam have been inscribed in UNESCO’s lists of world tangible and intangible heritage, while four national documentary heritage were added to the Memory of the World list.

Each time a recognition is made, Vietnam has the chance to promote its national treasure to the world, thus getting more international help for the conservation of its heritage as well as drawing more visitors to the country.

According to UNESCO statistics, more than one billion tourists visit world heritage sites each year. In Vietnam, the number of visitors to world heritage sites has also shown significant increases over the years. The complex of Hue monument in the ancient imperial city of Hue and Ha Long Bay in the northern coastal province of Quang Ninh are now seeing two millions of visitors a year compared to some tens of thousands in the years of their inscription (1993 and 1994, respectively). Another site, the Hoi An ancient town in the central province of Quang Nam draws an average 1.5 million visitors a year.

The number of visitors to the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty in the central province of Thanh Hoa rocketed from just several thousand to more than 60,000 a year after it was recognised as a World Cultural Heritage site in 2011. The increasing flow of tourists has helped develop tourism and related sectors, creating jobs and income for local residents.

At the same time, the Vietnamese government has issued a range of legal documents regulating the management, conservation and upgrading of the national heritage in general and recognised world heritage items in particular. Several master plans on conserving heritage sites have been built and implemented, including a 1,284 billion VND (61.1 million USD) plan to 2020 for the Hue complex and an environmental protection scheme to 2020 with a vision to 2030 for Ha Long Bay.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) together with many international organisations have provided valuable assistance both technically and financially to Vietnam in restoration and conservation work.

However, besides the benefits, many problems also arose regarding how to properly conserve the heritage while making good use of it for socio-economic development.

The country is short of finance for the work since conservation activities requires a large sum of money. Meanwhile, a dearth of professional and foreign language skills of the personnel along with an influx of visitors to recognised heritage sites is also deemed as problematic.

At a recent workshop on developing a strategy to promote Vietnam’s World Heritage, Deputy Head of the Department of Cultural Heritage Nong Quoc Thanh stressed that UNESCO recognition was not intended to develop tourism but rather to instill the sense of responsibility among governments and communities to preserve and uphold the values of the heritage.

A representative from the UNESCO office said that by making good use of promotional techniques and communication tools, Vietnam could influence visitors’ behaviour at heritage sites and engage the community in heritage protection.

The eight cultural and natural World Heritage sites in Vietnam are the Complex of Hue Monument (recognised in 1993), Ha Long Bay (1994), Hoi An Ancient Town (1999), My Son Sanctuary (1999), Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (2003), the Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long-Hanoi (2010), the Citadel of the Ho Dynasty (2011) and the Trang An Landscape Complex (2014).

Those inscribed in the list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity are Nha Nhac (court music), the Space of gong culture, Ca Tru singing, Quan Ho Bac Ninh folk songs, Xoan singing of Phu Tho province, Giong festival of Phu Dong and Soc temples, the Worship of Hung kings in Phu Th o, and the Art of Don Ca Tai Tu music and song in southern Vietnam.

The four documentary items highlighted by the Memory of the World list are stone stele records of royal examinations of the Le and Mac Dynasties (1442-1779), wood blocks of the Nguyen Dynasty, Buddhist wood blocks at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda and royal administrative records of the Nguyen Dynasty.

In addition, eight world biosphere reserves have been designated in the country since 2000, encompassing over 3 million hectares of diverse marine and terrestrial regions: Can Gio (2000), Cat Tien (2001), Cat Ba archipelago (2004), the Red River Delta (2004), Kien Giang (2006), western Nghe An (2007), Cu Lao Cham-Hoi An (2009) and Mui Ca Mau (2009).-VNA