The first international conference on spiritual tourism will take place in the northern province of Ninh Binh’s Bai Dinh Pagoda on November 21- 22, said an official from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism at a press conference in Hanoi last week.

The International Conference on Spiritual Tourism for Sustainable Development will explore ways in which living culture, traditions and beliefs can be integrated into tourism while respecting the four pillars of sustainability: environment, economy, society and culture.

The conference, jointly-organised by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Ninh Binh People's Committee, is an initiative of UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai.

Rifai made a study tour to Vietnam last year, said the head of the ministry's National Administration of Tourism, Nguyen Van Tuan.

"He formed a good impression after visiting tourism spots in Ninh Binh province, particularly Bai Dinh Pagoda, a private-invested work," Tuan said.

The conference's discussion will focus on the significance of spiritual tourism, cultural exchange and responsible tourism.

A statement on Spiritual Tourism for Sustainable Development will be approved at the end of the two-day event, which expects to attract between 340-350 participants, half of whom will be from overseas.

"Cultural exchange and responsible tourism is a mode of exchange between people and people in different regions, and nations to better understanding and share cultures," he added.

Tuan said that spiritual tourism reflects the tangible and intangible cultural heritage emanating from temples, pagodas, religious structures and local customs.

He said Vietnam will develop a variety of spiritual tourism lines such as the triangular Hanoi- Ha Long- Ninh Binh tourism route.

Another tour will target the Huong (Perfume) Pagoda (Hanoi), Bai Dinh Pagoda and Trang An tourism site (Ninh Binh), and Tran Temple (Nam Dinh).

Tourist destinations such as Bai Dinh Pagoda and Trang An tourism have already been suggested as UNESCO world heritage sites. In the first nine months of this year, Ninh Binh received 9 million visitors, a year-on-year increase of 20 percent, the highest in the nation.

"Although tourism has not contributed the lion's share of the province's budget, it counts an important role in the local socio-economic development," said Deputy Chairman of the provincial People's Committee Tran Huu Binh.

Tourism development has generated jobs for tens of thousands of local people. Income of the poor households has significantly increased with a monthly income between 4-5 million VND (190-245 USD).