Sunday, 26/08/2018 09:00

Community-based tourism improves local lives in Thanh Hóa

Hills are alive: Ba Thuoc District in Thanh Hoa Province is endowed with stunning natural beauty. VNA/VNS Photo Pham Hoa Mai
Viet Nam News

Precede: Community-based tourism has attracted an increasing number of tourists to Ba Thuoc District in the central province of Thanh Hoa. Here, visitors enjoy the picturesque natural scenery and get immersed in local life. The new tourism model has also provided locals with higher income and improved their lives.

by Hoa Mai & Luong Huong

Two years ago, Ha Van Bong’s family in Don Village in Ba Thuoc District in the central province of Thanh Hoa had to work hard on the farm to make ends meet. Recently, they have become busy with a new job which has provided them with higher incomes: welcoming tourists to their homes.

“We receive guests all year round, and sometimes have to refuse their bookings during peak months. Farming has gradually become the secondary occupation of many households in the village,” says Bong, adding that community-based tourism services have become his own family’s main source of income.

Located within the Pu Luong Natural Reserve, Don Village charms tourists with its picturesque scenery, comprised of endless terraced paddy fields and stilt houses peacefully nestling among the foothills under the cool shade of the dense forest.

Since the introduction of community-based tourism, an increasing number of tourists have come to Don Village not only to contemplate its untouched natural beauty but also to experience local life by trying cloth weaving and tasting local specialties that are served with the sincere hospitality of the locals.

From Don Village, the tourists can go trekking or hire motorbikes to visit nearby destinations like Hieu or Kho Muong villages.

According to village chief Ngan Trung Son, 24 of 76 households in Don Village are offering tourism services. Seven of the households have received tourists regularly and earned stable income, up to as much as VND200 million (US$8,700) per year.

The village welcomed 19,000 visitors last year. In the first five months of this year, the figure reached nearly 10,000, most of whom are foreigners. The peak season falls in March, April, September and October.

Le Hung Chuc, the manager of the local department of culture, says that many villages in Ba Thuoc District have high potential for community-based tourism like Don Village.

All of these villages still preserve the cultural features of their ancestors and the modest lifestyle of the traditional stilt houses, he adds.

Efforts to develop community-based tourism were launched in Ba Thuoc in 2016. The project includes 17 villages, each with their own culture. Presently, the district is prioritising tourism development in six economically challenged communes, all located within the buffer zone of the Pu Luong Natural Reserve: Thanh Lam, Thanh Son, Ban Cong, Co Lung, Lung Cao, and Lung Niem.

To enable more villagers to implement the new tourism model, the local administration has opened classes on preserving the unique cultural features of the local ethnic people, such as Thai dances and brocade weaving.

“Don Village is striving to become a new countryside and tourism model for Ba Thuoc District in 2018,” says Son.

“Nearly 30 households in the village have erected tree fences and upgraded their homes with three necessary features: fresh running water, a sanitary area and hygienic livestock farms,” he adds.

Better life

Just 10 years ago, Don Village was still relatively poor.

The development of community-based tourism has given the village a new lease on life. With higher incomes from the new tourism model, many villagers have even borrowed capital to expand their homestay services.

For example, Ha Van Thuoc’s family has cooperated with Amica Travel Agency in Ha Noi to invest over VND2 billion ($86,400) to construct and upgrade five stilt houses consisting of 12 rooms and a welcoming central hall.

Though his family started to receive guests since the end of last year, they have already welcomed nearly 500 tourists, most of whom are foreigners.

One of the first households to offer homestay services in the istrict was Ha Van Sy’s, located in Hieu Village in Co Lung Commune.

“Our main source of income used to be derived from several hectares of paddy fields and breeding chicken and pigs. Our lives therefore used to be difficult and the children could not be provided with a proper education,” he says.

“In recent years, with the assistance of the management board of the Pu Luong Natural Reserve and the district authorities, my family embarked on the community-based tourism model. There were plenty of difficulties at first, but after many trials and improvements, we have better income to better our lives and have more money to broaden our services.

“Many tourists from France or Germany have stayed with our family. They said they were much interested in the community-based tourism of the village and wished to return.”

To many tourists, like Kelly Hayes-Raitt from the US, a trip to experience homestay tourism gives them the chance to understand local life.

“I was taken on a walking tour of the village and it was interesting to see how people lived. We also took a boat ride that was pleasant. Best of all was riding on the back of a local’s motorcycle as we toured around and went to a local market,” she recalls, adding that the local home-cooked meals were spectacular as well.

“I had offered to volunteer a few hours to teach the village kids English. What a blast! I’m not a teacher and had no idea what I was doing, but the kids and I really had fun.”

According to Lo Van Thang, vice chairman of Ba Thuoc District’s People’s Committee, community-based tourism has not only helped to eradicate poverty, increase income and improve local lives, but also stimulated the overall economy of the area; therefore contributing to realising the goal of ending poverty in the district by 2020.

The district has compiled a plan for developing tourism through 2020 and a project for developing community-based tourism until 2025.

In the 2018-2020 period, the district is expected to receive 40,000 visitors, 60 per cent of whom are foreigners, earning a revenue of VND40 billion ($1.7 million)

In recent years, Ba Thuoc District has concentrated on upgrading the infrastructure within the tourism destinations.

The tourism investors have also been provided with incentives. Besides the homestay service in the stilt houses of the locals, many resorts offering accommodation have been constructed in the district, offering more options for the tourists, like Pu Luong Treehouse or the two-star Pu Luong Retreat.

These new resorts have in turn offered jobs for locals.

“We now have three full-time employees and many others working part-time, like local guides, porters, kitchen assistants and waiters,” says Le Thi Phuong Dzung, the manager and host of Pu Luong Treehouse. “Each employee’s monthly income is around VND5 million ($215).”

According to Thang, the district has also focused on promoting community-based tourism, restoring traditional culture, preserving intangible cultural values and historical relics, as well as training human resources and handling the waste and sewage in the tourism spots.

The owners of homestay accommodations in several villages have received professional training on tourism skills like serving and welcoming guests, communication, managing finances, handling any problems that arise and ensuring sustainability by taking responsibility for natural surroundings.

Thang also revealed that the district is working on a new tour to Kho Muong Village in Thanh Son Commune, Don Village in Thanh Lam Commune, and Hieu Village in Co Lung Commune. It is expected to be available in October.

"We are planning to have the tourists participate in planting vegetables in some households in Don Village and cooperating with the local women’s union branch to revive traditional brocade and basket weaving, which the tourists can try if they wish to.” says Dzung of Pu Luong Treehouse. VNS 


Wonderful walk: Tourists go trekking in Ba Thuoc District in Thanh Hoa Province. VNA/VNS Photo Pham Hoa Mai
Strands of the past: The traditional brocade weaving of Thai people in Ba Thuoc District in Thanh Hoa Province has been revived to offer a unique experience for tourists. VNA/VNS Photo Pham Hoa Mai
Local life: A stilt house in Don Village in Thanh Hoa Province offers homestay accommodations. VNA/VNS Photo Pham Hoa Mai
Specialties: Tourists stay, eat and work with local people in Ba Thuoc District in Thanh Hoa Province. VNA/VNS Photo Pham Hoa Mai
Not in Kansas anymore: Foreigners are charmed by the picturesque natural beauty of Ba Thuoc District in Thanh Hoa Province. VNA/VNS Photo Pham Hoa Mai

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