The quiet, green islands, 20km off the coast of Hoi An, are a favourite rendezvous for travellers and nature lovers. Thousands of tourists visit the islands each day.Born and raised on the Cham Islands, Tran Quy Tay has seen the area undergo a complete facelift in the last almost half a century.
About 2,400 people live in the four villages on the islands, 80 per cent of whom immigrated there. In total they earn VND75 billion (US$3.6 million), 65 per cent of which is from tourism and service. Most islanders have stopped fishing and turned to the eco-tourism sector, which has doubled its income since the area was recognised as a World Biosphere Reserve in 2009.
“It’s a great change,” Tay said. “I had seen a poor life in the island when I was a child here. My parents were emigrants in the island in 1968 and I was born eight years later. Most islanders lived by onshore fishing, and they trade the fish they catch for daily food and other necessities from the mainland.”
“Tourism is a crucial part of the Cham Islands’ sustainable development,” said Nguyen Van An, chairman of the Tan Hiep Commune People’s Committee. “Islanders were asked to change livelihoods from inshore fishing to the ‘green and clean’ trade. It could create a good income for them, while protecting the islands’ environment and culture.”Of the four villages, Bai Huong, Bai Lang, Bai Ong and Cam, the beaches of Bai Ong attract 70 per cent of the total visitors.
He said local residents earned about VND27 million (US$1,300) per month, double what they earned in 2009.
“We encourage investment in tourism, while boosting environment, biodiversity and native culture,” he said.
Tourism has seen rapid development over the past year, with a fleet of 125 speedboats carrying passengers from Hoi An to the islands and back every day.
“It would result in overloaded accommodations and service and over exploitation of seafood and other marine resources, or destruction of the ecological system,” he added.
“It’s a bit of a shame for us, as we get less money from our speedboat services, but it’s the right decision and we (travel agencies and speedboat services) support it,” said Phan Van Tin of Dao Xanh (Green Island) Travel Agency.The number of tourists can exceed the number of villagers on the islands at times, so the Hoi An People’s Committee set a daily tourist limit of 3,000.