One of the most popular community-based tourism products in Vietnam is the homestay.
“The number of homestays in Vietnam increases rapidly every year, however, most of them are run by local families,” says Duong Binh Minh, a community-based tourism expert. “The quality of local infrastructure and services does not meet international service standards and there is a worrying lack of local awareness and weak coordination between related parties, including local authorities, tourism experts and service providers.” He continues: “This leads to the destruction of the natural landscape plus the business fails to meet customer expectations.”
Binh now devotes his life and his considerable tourism expertise to assist the development of community –based tourism all over Vietnam despite retiring from his position as managing director of a tour company two years ago.
“Community-based tourism programs have not yet attracted professional travel agencies and tour operators; instead, they draw mainly independent travellers,” says Binh. “Northern Vietnam attracts a high number of travellers because it is home to multiple indigenous ethnic groups. The number of visitors to the northwest was 422,200 in 2012. However, the number of tourists staying at home-stays was small, accounting for 3.4%.”
According to Binh, it is critical to firstly improve the service at local homestays. Hygiene and sanitation are of key importance. To reduce the cost, he says the construction material should be used appropriately.
Minh and Tho’s homestay in Mai Hich village was the first in Mai Chau commune, Hoa Binh province, which has been transformed under a new model. In late 2012, their house welcome 17 French tourists for the first time. They were highly impressed by the separate living space for guests and the tranquil and peaceful setting.
Gradually, the village is becoming an increasing popular destination on the tourist map of Vietnam. After one year of operation, the number of visitors to the village has risen rapidly.
Following the success of Mai Hich village and with the help of non-governmental organization, local authorities and local residents, two homestays have been built in Lac village in Hoa Binh province and Xuan Giang, Quang Binh, Ha Giang province.
More are on the cards in Na Hang (Tuyen Quang province), Meo Vac (Ha Giang province), Mu Cang Chai (Yen Bai province) and Sapa, Bac Ha (Lao Cai province).
The ancient capital of Hue also has great potential to develop community-based tourism. It is famous for magnificent monuments and citadels and World Heritage recognized sites along with many old villages such as Phuoc Tich, Thanh Toan and hill tribe villages in A Luoi and Nam Dong districts.
“Great efforts have been made by local tourism authorities with help from NGOs to develop tourism products in these areas. However, most of these actions are carried out in isolation and therefore face problems,” say Nguyen Dinh An, director of Asiana Travel Mate and Hue Cua Ta.
“Asiana Travel Mate has run many community programs to connect and engage local tourism authorities and representatives from UNESCO and International Labour Organization (ILO) to support local people in building new travel products and participating in the training with them,” An adds.
Many of its short excursion daily tours to village have proven successful. “These tours are half-day tours and focus on green travel, aiming at bringing the real village experience to travellers,” says An.
“Despite the fact that much effort has been made to create a wider selection of community-based tours, it is still not popular as it is not yet well promoted to local DMCs (Destination Management Companies) who work as the main channel to promote the products to foreign tourist,” says Nguyen Thuy Duong, vice director of Eviva Tour Vietnam. “The Vietnam Administration of Tourism should also play a very important role to promote the local products, not only to local travel companies but also the world at international fairs such as ITB in Berlin.”
The construction and development of responsible tourism products helps the local communities to develop sustainably and enhances Vietnam’s tourism image. It is therefore of utmost importance to create a harmonious combination of strength, knowledge and experience among the government, local authorities, travel companies and everyone else working in the industry.