In their own interest

Those involved in community-based tourism must always consider cultural preservation and environmental protection.

on March 14,2019 09:26 AM

In their own interest

PHOTOS: JESSICA NGUYEN

From a small community-based tourism model, 14 years on Jack Tran’s Tours is now a renowned community tourism organization that helps fishermen and farmers in the villages of Cam Thanh, Cam Chau, An My, Tra Que, Phuoc Hai, Cua Dai and Duy Hai earn money from tourism.

Want to take one of Jack Tran’s Tours? OK! Take off your shoes, pull up your trousers, and get ready to get muddy clearing rubbish from a river, join local farmers to plough rice fields, or go fishing for your dinner.

Jack Tran, or “Khoa Eco-tour”, are nicknames Tran Van Khoa is known by at hotels in Hoi An. A Hoi An local, he worked as a tourist guide while still at high school, showing visitors around the ancient town. He doesn’t copy others, though, he creates.

“Apart from the ancient feature of the world heritage site, what else do visitors to Hoi An want to see?” the student of the Da Nang Foreign Language University’s Tourism Department asked himself many years ago. He then came up with the idea of community eco-tourism that would contribute to protecting the environment and offer visitors a fascinating encounter with the land’s rich culture.

Founded in 2005 as a family-run tourism company, Khoa’s family home by Ganh Pier in Cam Thanh hamlet became the tourism office of the Hoi An Eco-Tour Company, or Jack Tran Tours today. Khoa’s father gave up fishing and now takes tourists around in his boat. His mother runs their small café-restaurant. Khoa is manager and tour guide, taking tourists out at dawn and dusk to explore the rivers of Hoi An, join local people in catching fish and crabs, row bamboo boats, and even clean up the environment.

From a small community-based tourism model, 14 years on Jack Tran’s Tours is now a renowned community tourism organization that helps fishermen and farmers in the villages of Cam Thanh, Cam Chau, An My, Tra Que, Phuoc Hai, Cua Dai and Duy Hai earn money from tourism.

His vision is to encourage sustainable travel, protect the environment, and promote the cultural and social values of local fishing and farming communities. “My first purpose is to create a unique ecological tourism product for Hoi An,” he said. “And this is tied to the local community.”

“As a tourism enterprise, we would like to help improve the lives of local people’s by making them involved in the tours,” he went on. “More than anyone else, farmers can best introduce their homeland and show tourists farming and fishing techniques while protecting the local environment.”

Another successful case of community-based tourism is in Quang Ninh province. Enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of a Vietnamese village and experiencing the daily life of farmers and local customs are among the unique memories for tourists visiting Yen Duc village in Dong Trieu town. Founded by the Indochina Junk JSC in 2011, tours to the remote village offer foreign tourists the chance to learn about the lives of Vietnamese farmers by actually taking part in growing rice and vegetables, catching fish with traps, sleeping in a house typical of Vietnam’s northern region, watching water puppetry shows, listening to musical love duets, and visiting houses close to 200 years old.

Nguyen Van Hien, a member of the Yen Duc cooperative, said they have become familiar with the model of community tourism. “I used to do farm work before shifting to tourism,” he said. “There were many problems at first but gradually we learned how to dress and how to communicate with tourists in order to leave them with a good impression of our commune.” All members of the cooperative are involved in tourism and now receive regular training to improve their communication skills. More importantly, it brings them an extra income of VND3.5 million ($150) a month.

“Local people know the history and culture of their area best, so they can provide tourists with more information than can be found in guidebooks,” Duong Thi Men, head of the Yen Duc cooperative, explained. “We organize monthly training courses to teach English and other necessary skills, and have launched contests for those interested.” The commune now caters to approximately 8,000 tourists each year. If they’re exploited in an inappropriate way, there will always be some negative effects. The government must set suitable criteria so as not to harm natural landscapes and preserve inherent values.”

In their own interest

GREAT POTENTIAL BUT CAUTION NEEDED

The rural waterways around Hoi An and Yen Duc cultural village are just two of many examples of community-based tourism in Vietnam. “Vietnam has lot of potential to develop community-based tourism,” said Pham Ha, CEO of the Lux Group, “It’s also a good way to eliminate hunger and poverty in remote areas.”

According to Mr. Ha, communities in Mai Chau, Pu Luong, Sapa, Ninh Binh, and the Mekong Delta do very well and attract more travelers who want to help local people, interact with them, learn more about their culture, and take part in a different but enriching experience. Local people, meanwhile, can earn more income, improve their living standards, and keep their heritage alive.

“Midland mountainous areas where pristine villages remain preserved are most suitable for developing community-based tourism,” said Mr. Phung Xuan Khanh, Director of Tien Phong Travel and Chairman of the Vietnam Travel Group. “The provinces of Lao Cai, Son La, Hoa Binh, Tuyen Quang, Lang Son and Ha Giang are on this list.”

Factors for developing community-based tourism in a locality, he went on, include the destination having own its own unique and intangible cultural heritages, such as ancient architecture, customs and folk dances, and they must also be involved in traditional agricultural to attract tourists.

“Local authorities and tour organizers, however, play an important role in developing community-based tourism,” he added. “In order to create sustainable development, all parties must closely cooperate in crafting tours and managing and preserving local cultural heritages.”

For Jack Tran, after finding success with community-based tourism in and around Hoi An, his company has now expanded to nearby Cham Island, a world biosphere reserve, with tours featuring fishing and snorkeling. “We still have two basic purposes - sharing benefits from tourism with the local community and being active in saving the environment,” Jack said. “We offer a the chance for tourists to join us in planting trees, gathering rubbish along rivers and on beaches, and encouraging local people to live in harmony with nature.” He added that Hoi An’s tourism industry is challenged by a lack of proper infrastructure that accommodates today’s rapid developments.

“Responsible travel is all about attitude,” Mr. Ha believes. Travelers come to a place because of its beautiful nature, rich culture, good food, and local people who value their culture and traditions. Community-based tourism must therefore keep these alive. “Many of our guests come back simply because of the hospitable people they met before,” he added.

Education is the top priority and would ensure the community understands the importance of responsible tourism and maintaining the authenticity travelers seek. Some communities or destinations, however, should limit the numbers of visitors. “Sapa is a bad example of mass tourism and destruction of the landscape, traditions, culture, and reputation,” Mr. Ha said.

While there is agreement between tourism organizers, tourists, and the community on preserving community-based tourism, there is still much controversy over its administration by local governments. The recent approval for cable cars at Mt. Fansipan near Sapa and Son Doong Cave in central Quang Binh province was met with some dismay. “As a travel expert, I am against all cable cars projects, as they can destroy destinations and ruin the landscape in the long run,” said Mr. Ha.

“A beautiful beach will lose its value if people don’t know how to exploit it,” Mr. Khanh believes. “Mt. Fansipan and Son Doong are at risk of losing their true value.”

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