ASEAN council in Vietnam I recently spent a week in Vietnam with the Australia-ASEAN Council Board for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Board’s mission is to promote Australia’s interests in South-East Asia. Our focus is on initiating and supporting activities designed to enhance awareness, understanding and links between people and institutions in Australia and South-East Asia.

The pace of change in Vietnam is rapid – 30% increase in tourism year on year, 25,000 new hotel rooms coming on line, and the need for 50,000 new staff trained in hospitality.

The scale of tourism development was highly evident in our visit to Hoi An – a world heritage listed site attracting thousands of tourists from around the world, increasingly from China, and Australia.

Many of the Australia-ASEAN Council funded projects are attempting to mitigate the risks of the rapid expansion in tourism. One of this year’s grants was to UNESCO, bringing together specialists to examine the issues facing disadvantaged community members living in world heritage locations. While in Hanoi, we met with representatives from the Ministry of Culture Sport and Tourism and UNESCO to discuss how we can  continue our collaboration. Further research and partnerships are needed to ensure the most disadvantaged communities are not negatively impacted through the growth of tourism in their area.

We caught up with Australian Embassy representatives in Hanoi and the Australian Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. High Commissioner Karen Lanyon hosted an event for representatives of the Australia-Vietnam Young Leaders dialogue and other key representatives of the Australia-Vietnam relationship. At lunch, hosted by Luke Nguyen at his restaurant Vietnam House, we learned about the many culinary collaborations occurring through Taste of Australia in Vietnam. Australian produce is enjoying rapid growth in popularity and the growing middle class are emerging consumers.

Business roundtables in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City highlighted differences between development and regulatory contexts in urban and rural areas.  We discussed the unique cultural contexts of north, central and south Vietnam and the implications for Australian business and their market entry strategies. As in all Asian contexts, effective business outcomes require a long-term commitment, consistency of personnel and enduring relationships. A solid example of Australian business engagement in Vietnam is the RMIT campus in Ho Chi Minh City. A gleaming high-tech site, the campus offers RMIT degree programs in business, technology, communication, design and fashion.

Vietnam is a strategic partner of Australia, and we have significant historic linkages. What this recent trip reconfirmed for me was the importance of our regional collaboration, and the exciting opportunities for our respective futures.

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