By Fabiola Buchele

Though most definitions of sustainable tourism include environmental, economic, societal and cultural impact, in practice most efforts to be a sustainable tourist or tour operator in Vietnam only focus on being eco-friendly.

This means whole sections of the fabric that makes up urban culture are left untapped. The small and local contemporary art communities of Vietnam’s cities are one such overlooked area of growth for sustainable cultural tourism.

By no means large in scale, the contemporary art world in Vietnam is responsible for some of the most exciting and unusual cultural events and activities. However, it is commercially fragile and struggles to be financially viable, constantly under threat of losing space and the ability to showcase work due to rapid development and rising rent.

This, by definition, makes tourist activities that support contemporary art an interesting candidate for sustainable tourism efforts.

Exploring the contemporary art world as an attraction for tourists can introduce your customers to aspects of Vietnam that are new to the industry and increase the positive social and cultural impact of your company. Below are three tangible areas that you can take into account when designing new products or developing existing products.

By no means large in scale, the contemporary art world in Vietnam is responsible for some of the most exciting and unusual cultural events and activities.

1. INNOVATIVE TOURS

Urban Tales spins murder mysteries in Cholon (Photo credit: Urban Tales)

Offering contemporary art programing reaches much further than tapping into its potential to enhance your sustainability portfolio. It also goes beyond the traditional art forms that most tour operators in Vietnam gear their cultural programing towards.

Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are leading the way in terms of products that take advantage of Vietnam’s contemporary art scene. Sophie’s Art Tour offers art history tours in both cities, which give great insight into the history and art of Vietnam while also focusing on contemporary movements.

There are also other tours related to the arts in Ho Chi Minh City that are of interest to tourists wanting to explore the more creative side of Vietnam. Urban Tales spins murder mysteries in Cholon and Somewhere in Saigon offers photography tours that take visitors through the alleyways of Ho Chi Minh City.

Exploring the contemporary art world as an attraction for tourists can introduce your customers to aspects of Vietnam that are new to the industry and increase the positive social and cultural impact of your company.

For those with the capacity for flexible and adaptable tours, the temporary events and exhibitions in these two cities are also worth considering. A tourism professional who is up to do date with contemporary art activities can organize appointments at studios with some of the most prolific artists and visits to contemporary art spaces with non-permanent exhibitions.

Stay up to date with events websites such as Hanoi Grapevine, Any Arena, The Word and Saigoneer. There are also newsletters that are worth signing up to, such as those of Manzi, Nha San, Art Vietnam, Goethe Institute, L’Espace, Creative City, Japan Foundation and Workroom Four in Hanoi. For Ho Chi Minh City, there is San Art, The Factory, Galerie Quynh and Saigon Outcast. There is also the New Space Arts Foundation in Hue.

2. UNIQUE SOUVENIERS

Art For You, Vietnam’s first and perhaps only affordable art fair that takes place a couple of times a year.  (Photo credit: Art For You)

As sustainable tourism continues to trend and an increasing number of tourists are wanting to support local communities with their holiday purchases, contemporary art again has the answers. The Vietnam art market is in its infancy and buying art is still possible within a reasonable budget.

Purchasing a piece of work by an up-and-coming artist makes for a truly unique souvenir. This is especially pertinent as tourists are tiring of mass produced, poor quality items that are suffocating the tourist markets and souvenir shops.

For visitors looking for something truly unique that aids individual creatives in sustaining themselves with integrity, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City again provide various places to shop. Manzi and Rabbit Hole make for good souvenir stops in Hanoi, while L’Usine, 3A Station and Antique Street are good spots in Ho Chi Minh City.
(Photo credit: Manzi)

Make sure you keep up to date with Art For You, Vietnam’s first and perhaps only affordable art fair that takes place a couple of times a year. Works across all media from the country’s most talented creatives are sold at prices ranging from $25-$900, an excellent souvenir opportunity for people passing through the country.

3. UNUSUAL ACCOMODATION

Boutique homestays and art hotels have become popular worldwide and they are starting to pop up in Vietnam as well. They are far and few between in a vast landscape of hotel chains and guesthouses; drab midrange accommodation that is functional but charmless. This means that these unusual accommodations are all the more special.

(Photo credit: The Art Homestay of Khanh)

In Hanoi there is Dao Anh Khanh’s Homestay, a chance to spend the night at the tranquil studio compound of one of Vietnam’s most eccentric performance artists. Unique art adorns the homestay and sleeping options include a tree house.

For something more central, the Apricot Hotel is associated with one of Hanoi’s finest art galleries specializing in the modern art of the early 20th century. This grandiose hotel is located on the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake and is decorated with artworks produced by some of the biggest names in Vietnam’s art history.

In Ho Chi Minh City, The Common Room Project is situated away from the hubbub of downtown Saigon. It has a cozy and homely atmosphere and is decorated with care and taste. Alternatively, Villa Song has just 23 rooms decorated with paintings by some of the most popular Vietnamese artists.

Fabiola Buchele

Guest Writer

Fabiola is a creative content producer focusing on art and culture in contemporary Vietnam across different media. She works as a freelance radio journalist and co-produces the podcast The Renovation Generation. Fabiola co-founded the online magazine & Of Other Things and works with various art and creative spaces in Hanoi on their programming and content writing. She is also one of the guides of Sophie’s Art Tour Hanoi.