Deirdre O Grady- Ireland

From December 5-9th, I learned about alternative cultural tourism with a wonderful group of people from four different countries.  Twenty -eight participants represented youth groups from Vietnam, India, Greek and Italy and ensured a wide range of cultural perspectives and experience of tourism in their home countries.

The week-long conference was hosted by CSDS, a Vietnamese civic society organisation, who are committed to enabling young people to become leaders in their own community and take social action. At the time, I was working as a volunteer for CSDS and was given the chance to participate in the seminar.

I expected the seminar to be a mix of theory (talks and workshops) and practice (the field trips and culture nights). The mix of theory and practice was perfectly balanced. On the first day, we had an intensive introduction to alternative cultural tourism and community based tourism. On the second day we set out on the road to visit two tourism models; Thai Hai Eco Village and Halong Bay. These tourism models were very different in terms of scale, level of popularity and also, sustainability, For this reason, we were able to compare the two models and apply the knowledge learned from the talks and workshops.  For example, the group suggested that rules against pollution in Halong Bay should be stricter in order to improve the quality of the water. On the other hand, the group commended the preservation of traditional lifestyle and culture in Thai Hai eco- village. They also recommended that the Thai Hai community increase the level of tourist information to make it more accessible to international visitors.  I was really impressed by the observations made by the group and understood the value of having a meeting of culturally diverse minds.

From the beginning to the end, there was lively discussion, adventure and of course, cultural exchange. My personal highlight was the ‘Culture Night’ as each country presented an aspect of their culture. The Vietnamese hosts treated us to a live- action fairytale and traditional dances from North, Central and South Vietnam. We learned some Bollywood dance moves and the Greek circle dance. The Italian participants explained the history of some of their culinary delights; limencello and delicious cheese!

I feel so lucky that I was able to participate in this seminar.  Together we learned about

one another, Vietnam and opportunities and challenges for alternative cultural tourism worldwide. Travel broadens your horizons and the opportunity to travel with a group of people from all corners of the world is totally unique. CULTY 2016 was a truly unforgettable experience!