sustainable tourism

Pass The Mic: Local Perspectives on the Rise of Tourism in the Azores

In the North Atlantic Ocean, about 1,500 kilometers west and less than a three hour flight from Lisbon, you’ll find the Azores archipelago. This autonomous Portuguese region consists of nine volcanic islands, each with its own colorful and uniquely jaw-dropping landscapes.

In 2015, air-space liberalization in the Azores began and low cost flights with carriers like EasyJet and RyanAir began operating to and from the archipelago.

Since then, the number of tourists travelling to the Azores has spiked significantly, particularly in São Miguel, the largest of the islands.

This has been great for the local economy and job creation, however, it also poses a serious threat to the very thing the island is known for - its pristine, natural beauty.

Though there are many positive impacts of tourism in the Azores, even local tourism companies agree that they don’t want to see the islands become a mass tour destination.

While visiting the Azores, I connected with three São Miguel natives - all currently studying or working in the tourism industry. I asked each of them for their personal perspectives on the increase of tourism in their home. Here’s what they had to say.

Read more: What to Do In São Miguel

Pass The Mic: A Local's Perspective on the Rise of Tourism in the Azores | HallAroundtheWorld

Joana Damião Melo

Joana was our AirBnb host in Ponta Delgada. Born in São Miguel, she lived on the island for 18 years before moving to Lisbon to study Hotel Management at Estoril Tourism University.

After her studies, she moved to Madrid where she began working in a hotel as an intern, a receptionist, a guest relations agent, and finally a sales executive at the company’s global sales office. Joana says this hotel was her real school.

Four years later, she moved back to Portugal where she worked on several major hotel renovations and property openings, including a position at the Ritz-Carlton in Sintra as the Director of Sales and Marketing. While here, Joana won the price for the Best Director of Sales and Marketing in Europe and the Middle East.

In 2015, she decided to return to São Miguel to relax and have her baby, and, after her son was born, she realized that there is no better place to raise a child.

Joana now has her hands quite full. She runs the beautiful Mirante Loft AirBnb and works for several villas on the island, including the Santa Bárbara Eco-Beach Resort where she works as a Sales Consultant.

She is also currently working on her own hotel project - Senhora da Rosa, Tradition & Nature Hotel which we should open at the end of this year or early next year.

What is your favorite thing about the Azores?

The Azores are one of the most beautiful destinations in the world for me! I've traveled several places and there is nothing like the Azores!

Every time I visit, even the most touristy sites, such as Lagoa das Sete Cidades, Furnas, or Lagoa do Fogo, I always feel passionate about my land!

I do not tire of this beauty, which is unique!!

I feel blessed to have been born here and to have returned to my land, and I want to contribute to its sustainable development as a tourist destination.

Could you tell me more about your property’s history and the upcoming hotel’s nature and tradition concept?

My parents built the property in 1994, but tourism was not like it is today. Flying over was extremely expensive and infrastructure in terms of hotels restaurants, and other activities was very poor. 

With great service and food, it was considered one of the best hotels in the Azores, but there was no focus on sales, promotion, or revenue management. Debts started to raise, bankruptcy was declared, and in 2011 the bank took over the property.

Many potential investors visited, but none of them bought it. All the while, I was looking for solutions to re-buy the property.

The whole property, including my house, the Airbnb unit where you stayed, my parents house, my uncle’s house, and all the gardens and plantations around us have been a part of my family for more than 200 years. It’s a place with a lot of history.

Read more about our stay at Joana’s AirBnb: Unique AirBnb in Ponta Delgada

In the 18th century, we started producing oranges. We built the tower where the Airbnb apartment is to see the ships entering the port of Ponta Delgada and to send the oranges there to be exported. 

After the plague, we had to switch to pineapple production.

My project is to renovate the existing building. It will have 33 rooms including two Suites, a restaurant, bar, two event rooms, and a rooftop bar. We will also create two new wooden houses in the middle of the banana trees. These small units will recreate the old "Cafuões" (small wooden houses where we used to store cereals) which were very common in the region.

We will keep all the gardens, reactivate the pineapple plantations, introduce a small hot tub inside one of them, and have a small spa using only natural products made from raw materials from the farm.

The concept of the new Senhora da Rosa is all about tradition and nature. We want to involve guests and invite them to explore the surrounding green area.

Pass The Mic: A Local's Perspective on the Rise of Tourism in the Azores | HallAroundtheWorld

What are your thoughts on rising tourism in the Azores? Is it positive, negative… or a bit of both? 

It is positive but we are in a critical moment when the entities involved must ensure that our greatest heritage - Nature - is maintained and protected.

The Azores is a destination that should limit visitors in a natural way - by positioning and selling the destination to the right markets.

Have you personally seen changes in the island since tourism began to increase? 

Yes, of course. We see tourist all year round, which is great. Between May and September in particular, we have many more people visiting than before.

On one side, this is great and very good for the economy. On the other side, we locals feel that it´s too crowed - (but it´s really not)! :)

What is being done to protect and preserve the land?

The local government has been doing a lot to protect and preserve and but there is always more to do.

After the tourism boom in 2015 and 2016, the local Government put in place several restrictions to the opening of new hotels and Airbnb as well.

They are in the process of certifying the Azores as one of the World’s Sustainable Tourism Destinations.

What do you think the overall local perspective is on tourism?

We need to grow on quality and not on quantity 

What should tourists know before visiting? 

That they can get 4 seasons in one day :)  


Pass The Mic: A Local's Perspective on the Rise of Tourism in the Azores | HallAroundtheWorld

Jorge Valério

My second interviewee is Jorge. Jorge has lived on the São Miguel island all his life, and has been working in tourism since age 14. He received a tourism degree from Azores University in Tourism Management and a Masters in Volcanology and Geological Risk.

Whether it’s as a skipper driving a boat or tour guide in a van, Jorge says his passion is connecting with people and helping their inner being feel in contact with nature.

This is why he and his partner Lisa started their company Holistika.

Launched in 2014, Holistika is a sustainably operated company that specializes in wellness tourism in the Azores. The company’s slogan “Meet Your Own Nature” alligns directly with their overall goal - to create real connections between their guests and nature.

Jorge knows his stuff about the Azores. He loves his home island and is committed to showing guests the REAL São Miguel.

I never got the chance to do one of Holistika’s activities, (though it’s at the top of my list for next time), but Jorge was still kind enough to give me his take on the Azores’ tourism boom.

What is your favorite thing about the Azores?

The water and the air! It's simply amazing, and super important to have a healthy life.

Though you show people the REAL Sao Miguel, do you still keep some secrets for yourself?

That's a fun question - but, yes! I have places that nobody will find!

What are your thoughts on the rise of tourism in the Azores?

Tourism is good for the economy and local evolution (in the mind and the way we see our world), however, rising tourism in the Azores can also be negative.

I think evolution is important, but we should be careful and not commit the same mistakes that other destinations have made before like building big hotels, having too many cars on the road, or simply losing our real identity!

Have you seen changes in the island since tourism began to increase?

Yes! Especially the number of cars around the island!

In a way, I think local tourism and low-cost flights are amazing, but it also brings a lot of pressure to our environment.

I believe that, soon, local people will lose the capacity to afford normal life the we always have. The houses and rent will be more expensive, and being in our nature without having people everywhere will be more difficult.

I feel that tourists are responsible with our nature, but I think the numbers are high enough.

If we keep having more people here, I don't feel it will be a good thing.

What is being done to protect and preserve the land?

Our government has created protected areas and laws that control construction and limit the number of licenses to do whale watching.

There are some projects that should not go on, like building big hotels and other structures.

I think that money moves money but we should not sell our nature with the objective only produce more money.

We don't have massive tourism now, and I hope we never do.


What should tourists know before visiting?

The Internet exposes a lot our places, which will lead to even more people travelling to the Azores. I advise people to come in the winter!

They should come with no expectations and just simply enjoy what this island offers… And please stop with the phones! - Relax, breathe and look through your eyes, not on Instagram.

Pass The Mic: A Local's Perspective on the Rise of Tourism in the Azores | HallAroundtheWorld

Miriam Vasconcelos

Last, (but most certainly not least), I spoke with Miriam.

Also a São Miguel native, she is currently living in London and finishing an International Tourism Degree with majors in travel and marketing. A traveller herself, Miriam says, “It is my passion to promote destinations and explore them as well.”

Once she has completed her studies, she hopes to pursue a career in travel and marketing. Her dream job is to be the Manager of a major Destination Management Organization, such as VisitBritain or VisitPortugal.

In the midst of her finals, Miriam was kind enough to take the time to answer a few of my questions about the increase of tourism in her home islands. (THANK YOU, MIRIAM)!

Her comprehensive and thoughtful responses illuminate a young professional’s perspective on both the positive and negative impacts of tourism (particularly in São Miguel), and what can be done to avoid the latter.

What is your favorite thing about the Azores?

My absolute favorite thing about the Azores is the colors and the smells… (even when it smells like cow poo). I love to see the green from the mountains meeting the blue from the sea.

I also love that nature is mostly untouched, or has been changed minimally by humans.

What are your thoughts on rising tourism in the Azores? positive, negative, or a bit of both?

The Azores have been in the spotlight for some time now, but I only recently started to notice new articles about it. I have seen it called the “Hawaii of Europe” or a “Better Iceland,” and who wouldn’t love to go to any of these places and pay £0.60 for a coffee?

Portugal is relatively cheap… but the islands are ridiculously cheap. You can find a good Airbnb for around £40p/night for a 2/3 bedroom place (and this is on São Miguel, the main island).

Due to the rise of tourism, especially in São Miguel, locals have started to be charged for things that belong to the land and that used to always be free, (for example, Poca da Dona beija, Furnas, Ferraria, and others). Other services and products have become more expensive (e.g. Whale watching, renting a car, boat trips, scuba diving, and hotels).

The rise in tourism has had positive impacts as well.

The Azores are rural islands. We live from selling milk from cows, growing fruit, and not much more. The tourism industry provides new, quicker opportunities to contribute to the archipelago’s GDP. We need it. The Azores are too small to just export - We need people coming and buying the milk from our cows, the mini pineapples that we grow, our fish, and so on. We need tourists.

Despite these positive economic impacts, it is vital to consider ways in which the islands can suffer from tourism.

It is known that our attitudes as tourists differ from our behaviours when at home in our day-to-day life. When we are on holiday we don’t care as much for things. We are relaxed. Extinguishing a cigarette on the floor is normal. Ice cream papers get dropped on the beach. This is a little thing, but when everyone does it, it is a big problem, and on a small island, it is ten times more visible than in a big city.

Another issue is transportation and pollution. More people equals more connectivity of flights, more air transport, buses running more frequently, and more pollution. The airport will probably have to be expanded and more airports created in other islands… All this to accommodate more tourists.

Pollution will impact the happiness of the locals, which will affect the satisfaction of the tourists. All tourists want to feel welcome in a destination. If the locals don’t want you there, would you come back? Would rate it? Would you suggest it? You would probably not even visit other places in the country.

What is being done (or should be done) to protect and preserve the islands?

Although, it is possible to manage this ascending issue, we must do so by studying and practicing sustainable tourism and bearing in mind every single party that is involved in the destination… including Nature.

I believe this should start with marketing.

Marketing to islands like the Azores should take into consideration more than the immediate outcome – Money. It is beneficial to have a lot now, but if the reason for the money is also the cause of the island’s destruction, then we are losing in the long run, right?

The Azores currently have several projects to balance the sustainability of Nature with tourism and the modern days. For instance, they have granted part of the green project, and they have an ecological school where you are taught how to grow vegetables, how to take care of the island, and so on.

Another strategy that the government has implemented is renewed energy houses, so, solar panels are used a lot nowadays

I hope you enjoy reading my little thoughts about my island. Please note that this is my opinion with a bit of background of marketing and tourism but it is not linked with any literature I studied. This is purely my thoughts about what I have been experiencing with my islands.

Pass The Mic: A Local's Perspective on the Rise of Tourism in the Azores | HallAroundtheWorld

Why is Sustainable Tourism Important?

Joana, Jorge, and Miriam each have unique perspectives regarding tourism in the Azores, but one common idea stands out - Tourism in the Azores must be developed sustainably.

Sustainable Tourism is important because SUSTAINABILITY is important.

In recent years, we have seen once pristine beaches become covered in plastic and several animal species now face the threat of extinction. These drastic consequences have (finally) made us more conscious and aware of the crisis facing our planet - what we have done to contribute to it and how we need to do better.

Now is the time to make policy changes which will protect and preserve our environment and the species in it, particularly within the tourism sector.

People in the Azores have recognized the potential negative impacts of rising tourism and are responding by making responsible and sustainable decisions in this developing sector.

The last thing locals want is for their home to turn into the next tourist hotspot like Iceland, or worse, like Thailand’s Maya Bay - (Made famous by the film The Beach, Maya Bay received over 5,000 visitors per day at the peak of its popularity. This inevitably resulted in the destruction of 80% of the reefs surrounding the bay, and its indefinite closure last October).

The government has made steps in the right direction by creating protected areas and placing a cap on the number of hotels that can be constructed across the nine islands.

Local business owners such as Joana and Jorge are also playing their part by creating innovative, sustainable alternatives to traditional hotels and tour companies. Still, like Joana said above, there is always more that can be done.

São Miguel is easily one of the most naturally beautiful places I have ever been, and it is a place that all nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts should have the opportunity to experience and enjoy. That being said, tourists visiting the island should be conscious and respectful (of the land and the locals), and do their part to practice and support sustainable tourism, too.

Pass The Mic: A Local's Perspective on the Rise of Tourism in the Azores | HallAroundtheWorld

What are your thoughts on over-tourism?

Let me know in the comments below!

Checking in to London’s Greenest Boutique Hotel - Qbic Hotel

Last November, Andrew and I set off on a four week, seven country adventure to visit and capture Europe’s Christmas markets with Urban Adventures. London was our last stop, and, for a couple of reasons, it was the destination I was most excited about.

My mom is from England, so, I’ve visited London a couple of times before with family, but, on both occasions, I was barely a teenager. I was old enough to like the city… but I wasn’t really old enough to appreciate it.

This time around, things were really different. I was excited about revisiting London, but was also looking forward to visiting my family there. It was the first time in my life I’d be visiting them by myself, and also the first time I’d be entering the UK on a British passport!

I was also pumped for our London trip because we were going to be staying a couple of nights in one of the coolest areas… at the city’s most eco-friendly (and cutest) boutique hotel - Qbic Hotel London.

London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld

About QBIC Hotel London

The Vibe + mission

In one word, Qbic Hotel is super cozy. Picture your typical, stuffy, corporate chain hotel… and then think the exact opposite. I was a big fan of their trendy decor, art filled walls, and the staff’s laid back and welcoming attitude.

Qbic says, “We use local, innovative designers to create refreshingly different interior design that is authentically unique and holds an inspiring story.”

They are dedicated to reducing their environmental impact and support eco-friendly charities in the local community. One of these is Cafe Art, London based initiative that aims to reconnect people affected by homelessness with society through Art. Qbic showcases some of the artists work in their hotel and has even given Cafe Art a space to run the charity in the hotel’s basement.

London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld
London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld

From the solar panels on the roof to their use of chemical free cleaning products, at Qbic Hotel, being “green” is more than just empty words or a marketing slogan.

They provide guests with organic toiletries and natural, organic beds made from sustainable and renewable resources. They also offer free bike rental and encourage guests staying two or more nights to conserve water and energy, by skipping room cleaning (in exchange for a free drink at the bar). Qbic Hotel believes this incentive will encourage guests to make greener decisions.

Though their aren’t in-room coffee makers, each floor is equipped with a free coffee and tea area. You won’t find any plastic water bottles here. Instead, guests are provided with free filtered water in their room’s refillable glass bottle. Qbic hotel also uses sustainable, re-usable metal straws instead of single-use plastic straws.

London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld
London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld
London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld

The rooms

Compared to other hotels in, our room at Qbic smaller. We didn’t have all of the bells and whistles you might find in other hotel rooms, but, we found that we did have everything we needed.

I was pleasantly surprised by the sleek, modern, clutter free design of the room, and impressed by the rooms defining wall art and highly efficient reusable pod that stood center-stage.

The “Qbi pods” in each room are sustainably built, aluminium pods that contain everything you need in a fully functioning hotel room… and I mean everything from the bed, tv, lights, outlets, and USB ports to the toilet, sink, and waterfall shower. It’s such a genius and innovative concept.

Guests have the choice of a smart room, cosy room, or a fun room. So, what’s the difference?

If you’re looking for a crashpad where you can get a solid nights sleep, go for a window-less smart room. If you want a bit of daylight, go for a cosy room like we did. If you’re travelling with two or three people and want a bit more space, go for one of their larger fun rooms (complete with a couch).

London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld
London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld
London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld

Motley Bar + Restaurant

Motley, Qbic’s in house restaurant and bar, is popular amongst travellers and locals alike.

They offer breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner throughout that week and several delicious options for sharing (…or keeping to yourself). Their menu has lots of healthy, vegetarian friendly dishes made from seasonal, sustainable, and locally sourced produce.

The restaurant and bar was always pretty quiet during lunch (and at 5am when I took the photos below), but it got really busy after working hours. We stayed here during the week, so it was a great spot to grab a bite to eat and get some work done, but it’s probably much busier for brunches on the weekend!

Hours

BREAKFAST: Mon-Fri 7:00-10:30 Sat-Sun 8:00-11:00

BRUNCH: Sat-Sun 11:30-15:00

LUNCH & DINNER: Mon-Fri 12:00-22:30 Sat-Sun 15:30 - 22:30

BAR: Sun-Wed 16:00 - 00:00 Thu-Sat 16:00-2:00

Click here to view Motley’s various menus.

London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld
London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld
London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld
London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld

Rates + Booking

To check current rates or to book your room at Qbic Hotel London, use the search bar below!

Booking.com

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London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld
London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld
London's Greenest Hotel - Qbic Hotel | HallAroundtheWorld

The Most Hands-On Cooking Experience in Hoi An - Hoi An Eco Cooking Class

While visiting Hoi An, or Vietnam in general, it would be silly to miss out on taking a cooking class. With so many to choose from, you may be wondering where to begin.

During my first trip to Hoi An, I spent a day at Green Bamboo Cooking School. This time, I wanted to try something different, so Andrew and I decided to go to the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class. It shared some similarities with Green Bamboo Cooking school, but overall I think it gives guests a more hands-on cooking experience.

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WHAT TO EXPECT

Visiting The Market

Like my previous cooking class experience, the Hoi An Eco Cooking class begins with a trip to the Central Market. Here you’ll see the colorful lively market where many locals buy and sell their produce and other goods. If you’re a first timer at the market, it’s nice to go with a guide who can teach you a bit about the market and products sold there.

(Tip: Once you’ve been given the inside scoop, be sure to head to the Central Market on your own, and do it early! - before the parade of tourists comes through. You’ll see what I mean).

Bamboo Boating

After visiting the market, we drove to the cooking school which was conveniently located right beside the water in Cam Thanh Coconut Village.

Before the cooking begins, you’ll take a ride in a traditional coracle, better known as a bamboo boat, through the beautiful water coconut palm forest.

The local fisherman guiding your boat will teach you how to catch fish and purple crabs. He also attempted, with no success, to teach me how to properly paddle the boat… let’s just say I’ve been skipping arm day at the gym for way too long.

Hands-on Cooking Experience

After exploring the channels, you’ll return to the cooking school for quick refreshments. Then you’ll get down to business. You’ll be given an apron, a number, a chef’s hat, and full responsibility for everything you cook from then on. Everything we were to eat we had to make totally on our own, so if your cooking sucks, your food will suck… the head instructor’s words… not mine. No pressure.

We learned how to make rice milk, which we then used to carefully make rice paper. The whole process was so delicate and precise. We used our rice paper to make fresh spring rolls, which we dipped in a delicious sweet and sour fish sauce.

We cooked some of Vietnam’s famous Pho Bo (beef noodles), Aubergine with soy sauce, and a delicious banana flower salad. Then things got hot as we played with fire to fry up some Banh Xeo (crispy pancakes).

As each dish was finished, we placed it on a tray with our number, and, once everything was complete, sat down to a delicious and rewarding feast.

To end the day, everyone watched an incredible food art demonstration! Sadly, I didn’t manage to turn tomatoes into roses and carrots into flowers on my own. We were given special cooking tools, a mini cook book, and serious food comas to take home with us!


WHAT I LOVED

Unlike the Green Bamboo Cooking School, where each guest chose and prepared a single dish (but got to try a bit of everything), at the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class you prepare everything you eat on your own. Though it was a bit more fast-paced, I really enjoyed getting to learn more about each food and how it is made.

(Note: Since you were only responsible for preparing one dish at the Green Bamboo Cooking School, there was more time to relax and chat with the other travellers. If you’re looking for a more laid back experience, this may be a better choice for you).

I for one felt proud when I successfully prepared all of the dishes on my own… and even more proud when they actually tasted good. I also really enjoyed the Bamboo Boat ride - This was something Andrew and I wanted to do anyway, so it was great to get that experience and a cooking class all in one!

This class is also great for those with dietary restrictions. Even the vegetarians in the group were able to cook veggie-friendly versions of each dish (which is something you definitely won’t get at every cooking school)!

If a fun, hands on experience is what you’re after, then the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class is the perfect choice for you.

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BOOKING

To request a spot at in the class, head to hoianecocookingclass.com.

Note: I was a guest of the Hoi An Eco Cooking Class, however, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own.


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Beach Camping on Cham Island - When to Go & What to Expect

The big cities of Vietnam can be a bit overwhelming… and Hoi An is no exception.

I love its lantern lit streets, cozy cafes, and endless tailor shops… but if you plan on spending more than a week there, you may find that you need a little break from the incessant horn honking and selfie stick filled streets of the old town.

Thankfully, there’s an island escape a short boat ride away - Cham Island.

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what is cham island?

“Cham Island,” is actually a cluster of eight small islands just eight miles off Hoi An’s coast… but only one is inhabited. This island is said to be the perfect getaway for anyone wanting to get out of the city for a bit… and after a couple weeks in Hoi An that’s exactly what we needed.

We booked our trip to Cham Island with ALO Travel Asia, a company which offers a number of tours and excursions in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. Our booking included roundtrip hotel and boat transfer to and from Cham Island, snorkeling, all meals, and an overnight stay in a little tent on Bai Chong beach.

What to expect

At 8am the day of our trip, we and a bus full of other travellers were picked up and driven to Cua Dia pier. From there we boarded a double decker boat with Cham Island Divers and began to make our way to the islands.

The boat stopped twice along the way for snorkeling, diving, and free time to swim and jump off the boat. This was the first time I had gone snorkeling since I was a kid… and I must say, I was pretty horrible at first. Andrew got a huge laugh as I kept going too far under with my snorkel on and ending up with a mouth full of water. It also didn’t help that my first pair of flippers were WAY too big. Anyway, once I got my mask/flippers/general technique sorted, we both had a really great time.

At around 1pm we arrived at Cham Island and had lunch on Bai Chong beach. The beach was already filled with other tourists at that point, so, after lunch, we grabbed a beer and a hammock under the palm trees.

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An hour or so later, the tourists boarded their boats back to Hoi An and the only foreigners left on the beach were six French girls, Andrew, and myself. It was then that we really got to enjoy this quiet island getaway.

We went swimming, relaxed on the beach, and Andrew had a mini game of football with a young local boy. Though he hardly spoke any English, he and Andrew got by with hand signs, smiles, and laughs. I’ve always known a smile to be universal, but now I’m fairly certain that football must be too.

After awhile, the boy proudly proclaimed, “My name Thuy. Who you!?” - and then laughed hysterically when he found out our names.

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Soon, it was time for dinner. We joined the French girls in the little island restaurant for beers, freshly cooked fish, delicious tofu, rice, spaghetti and tropical fruit for dessert - an interesting combination, and quite a feast considering. We tried to order cocktails from the “bar” but they had already stopped serving liquor. Instead, they gave us a cooler filled with beers, and charged us for what we drank the next day.

Surrounded by the island pups, we spent the rest of the evening around a bonfire, (which Andrew proudly kept stoked). We drank as many of our cooler beers as we could, and played a really fun game called FishBowl - I had never heard of it before but would 100% recommend. We chatted about life, politics, and got to bed fairly early since we had to be up early for breakfast and more activities the following day.

We woke up to one, two, then three guard pups outside our tent, ate breakfast, and then headed back out onto the water.

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Typically, when you book through ALO Travel, day two of this trip just includes a free day on the island, lunch, and your boat transfer back to Hoi An. The staff at Cham Island Divers were kind enough to pick us up that morning for another day of snorkeling and cruising on their double decker boat.

After that, we came back to the island for lunch - (unsurprisingly, the same lunch as the day before), and, I have to say, I was absolutely appalled…

wait, what happened…?

Everything was going great… the staff and people on the island were welcoming and hospitable… the food was good… the water was cold… but the beach, which just a few hours before had been for the most part clean, was filled (and I mean FILLED) with garbage… and I don’t just mean trash the tide had brought in.

Surrounding the lounge chairs and hammocks… and, in general, all across the beach there were bottles and bags and pieces of plastic that were so small they weren’t much of an eyesore… You might not even notice them… until they ended up in the stomach of a fish who’d go belly up and wash up on the shore. And yes, we did also see a dead fish… with a very swollen belly.

Like most of us, I’d seen lots of pictures and videos on the internet of beaches hidden under a layer of plastic… until that day, I’d never seen anything like that with my own eyes.

Though I couldn’t believe this was the same beach where we’d spent the most perfect night, I was more shocked that that none of the other tourists on the beach seemed to be doing anything about it.

While Andrew and I lugged hand-full after hand-full of trash to and from the island’s bins, all the other tourists that I could see just sat and watched… or didn’t watch… maybe they didn’t care. (Plastic not pictured because, like I said, we were busy trying to pick it up.)*

I get it. People want to go to a beautiful beach… they want to enjoy their time… to relax… to have someone else clean up after them. Maybe there should have been more bins… maybe there should have been less tourists… Or maybe everyone needed to start caring a little bit more.

The fact is, if we don’t get our shit together, there won’t be anymore pretty little islands with crystal blue waters to lounge around on.

Fortunately, the first step to solving a problem is noticing that their is one… and thankfully that process has already begun.

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What is being done?

Plastic pollution is a huge problem everywhere, not just Cham Island… The island is just the first place where the severity of the problem really hit me like a slap in the face.

I spoke with Deano, one of the boat captains at Cham Island Divers, and he gave me some reassuring information about what the government and Cham Island Divers are doing to address the waste issue we witnessed on the island.

Across Vietnam, plastic bag usage has been the focus of many recent government campaigns. Additionally, Danang, one of Vietnam’s largest cities located just a short drive away from Hoi An, is launching a new campaign against single use plastics specifically. These single use items make up a majority of the rubbish we found on the beach.

On Cham Island, plastic bottles, mainly water bottles, remain a huge issue. The waste on the island, which, as you can imagine, is much worse during peak tourist season, is tidied twice daily by locals employed by the Marine Park Authority (MPA).

Cham Island Divers also works with the MPA and other local authorities to implement strategies and practices to help the people of Cham Island protect their beautiful home. On a daily basis during their dive and snorkeling sessions, the instructors do their part in cleaning up the ocean floor… all while keeping their customers educated and ensuring they have a great time.

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What can I do?

Well, it’s simple really…

You don’t want people coming and trashing your home… so don’t trash someone else’s.

If you’re planning to visit Cham Island be aware and be conscious… Aware of the plastic pollution problem the island faces and conscious of how you yourself are contributing to it. Make an effort to minimize the waste you are producing and to clean up the litter that’s already there.

I think people today are becoming so much more conscious… of the foods they eat, the clothes they wear, the products they consume, and the waste they create… the fact that you’re even still reading this post proves that.

Campaigns like plastic free week and Jackson Grove’s Adventure Bag initiative are a huge step in the right direction… but it’s a step we need to take together, and a step we need to take often.

While visiting Cham Island, lead your own adventure bag clean up with travel companions, or clean up what you can solo.


When should I go?

The best time to visit Cham Islands is from March to September, but, if you are planning on diving during your trip, it is recommended that you visit between June and August.

I’ve reached out to Cham Island Divers to ask if they are leading any upcoming island cleanups. I will update that info here as I get it - because that would obviously be a pretty great time to go, too!


Booking

I would highly recommend booking a trip to Cham Island through a dive school or tour company versus trying to plan a trip on your own, especially if you want to camp out overnight.

You can book your overnight trip through ALO Travel Asia like we did here, or book directly through Cham Island Divers here.

Despite it’s pollution, Cham Island is beautiful… I really enjoyed the time I spent there, and genuinely hope it remains beautiful for all of its visitors in the future.


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Sustainable Tourism in HaLong Bay aboard the Au Co Luxury Cruise



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Named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994, HaLong Bay is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and a popular tourist destination in Vietnam for domestic and international visitors alike.

For years, waking up in the crystal blue waters of the bay on a junk boat amidst the limestone cliffs was at the top of my bucket list, and, in 2017, I finally made it there. According to statistics from the Halong City People’s Committee, so did about 7 million other tourists... with a majority of them flocking straight to the port to board their cruise in the bay.

As you can imagine, this mass tourism can have detrimental effects on the environment in HaLong Bay, however, I don't think tourists should let this dissuade them from visiting. There are companies who care about preserving the beauty of HaLong Bay, its wildlife, and the local communities who call this place home... companies like Bhaya Cruise Line.

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About Bhaya Cruise Line

In 2007, Bhaya's first ships set sail, and just over ten years later, with four different fleets and several cruise packages to choose from, it is already become the largest cruise operator in HaLong Bay. It is also one of the Bay's most reputable cruise companies.

In 2017, Bhaya launched several sustainable tourism initiatives designed to protect and preserve the environment, and to help local communities.

This summer, I had the pleasure of exploring the beauty that is HaLong Bay a second time aboard Bhaya's Au Co Luxury Cruise. I was very impressed with the ship, the staff, the off the beaten tourist track excursions, the food(!), and with Bhaya's overall dedication to leading the way for sustainable tourism in HaLong Bay.

Want to learn more about the Au Co Luxury Cruise, Bhaya's social and environmental initiatives, or how you can get involved?

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