Community-based Ecotourism Development in Tu Ne and Thanh Hoi Communes, Tan Lac District, Hoa Binh Province
Community-based ecotourism refers to ecotourism enterprises that are owned and managed by the community. Furthermore, ecotourism implies that a community is taking care of its natural resources in order to gain income through operating a tourism enterprise and using that income to better the lives of its members. Hence, it involves conservation, business enterprise, and community development. (Keith W.Sproule and Ary S.Suhandi (1998)) In recent years community-based ecotourism has become more popular throughout the world. Many tourists come to other lands not only to enjoy the beautiful sites but also to learn more about the life and the customs of people in that land. They want to be directly involved in daily activities of the local people and to gain a more objective view about other cultures, which in turn helps protect those values. With the advantages of nature and humanity, Vietnam is having a great opportunity to promote community-based ecotourism. This will attract a new kind of tourism to Vietnam as well as contribute to the conservation of natural and cultural values and the improvement of the people’s lives in the tourism regions. However, there are still many challenges that are faced with this kind of tourism. There is a shortage of human resources for tourism services and inadequate investment in infrastructure to meet different needs of the customers. Moreover, in many areas the tourism products lack their own cultural identity and are identical with other places’, which decreases the attraction to tourists. Further to this, the introduction of tourism images is not impressive enough to attract tourists.
The program “Community-based Ecotourism in Tu Ne and Thanh Hoi Communes”, one element of the project “Livelihood Improvement, cultural identity preservation and environmental protection in Tan Lac district, Hoa Binh province”, is sponsored by FPSC (the Social Promotion of Cultural Foundation organization, Spanish) and implemented by CECAD. This program aims at improving the livelihoods for the residents of Tu Ne and Thanh Hoi communes, especially the ethnic minorities, through preserving the Muong cultural identity and indigenous knowledge as well as protecting the environment. With the support of the people and the local authorities in Tu Ne and Thanh Hoi communes, CECAD conducted many preparatory activities to develop community-based ecotourism in the two communes. In order to preserve the Muong culture and traditional songs and dances, the centre assisted the local residents to construct Muong cultural houses and supported the establishment of the dancing team and weaving team. CECAD also organised study tours for the tourism group to learn how to develop community-based ecotourism in Chiang Mai in Thailand and Pu Luong Nature Reserve in Thanh Hoa province. The local people participated in training courses on how to welcome the tourists and how to cook Muong dishes. A brochure about the communes’ culture and tourism was designed and printed at the same time.By 2008, after 3 years of preparation, the tourism in Tu Ne and Thanh Hoi communes was put into operation serving local and foreign tourists. So far, in the two communes, two community-based ecotourism groups were established with 44 members, including a weaving team with 10 members, a service team with 14 people in charge of cooking, homestay and guiding, and a performance team with 20 members. In addition, CECAD also supported in constructing two Muong community houses in Tu Ne and Thanh Hoi. The two cultural houses will be not only the destination for the residents to practice and to hold important events of the villages but also the resting place for large tourist groups. With the support from CECAD, a gallery displaying cultural and environmental works made by the pupils of Tu Ne Secondary school and two medicinal gardens in Cu hamlet and Thanh Hoi Secondary school were completed which will be included in the community tourism program. These activities have gradually obtained positive results. Until now, there are 115 foreign tourists and 50 local ones who, after visiting Tu Ne and Thanh Hoi, have gained a good impression about a poor but peaceful and welcoming Muong cultural identity place. However, the initial preparations are not enough to develop community-based ecotourism in Tu Ne and Thanh Hoi, as the amount of people that know about these places and the visitors are still limited. The global economic crisis is one reason which reduces the number of foreign visitors to Vietnam in general and to Tu Ne in particular. The main reason is that the advertising and marketing works have not been effective enough to attract the tourists. Hence, the local people, who are directly involved in the project, do not pay much attention to this program. The tourism in Tu Ne and Thanh Hoi yet has not achieved its proposed goals in the main project which include livelihood improvement, cultural identity preservation and environmental protection. Understanding the existing difficulties and challenges, CECAD has been implementing different activities in order to improve the current situations in those two communes.First, CECAD will solve the problem of the lacking tour guides here. At present, Mr. Bui Van Anh,is the only guide who is knowledgeable about the Muong tradition and history yet he does not know English and neither do the people here. It is therefore difficult for backpacking tourists to understand and enjoy the Muong cultural beauty. For this reason, CECAD will find more local collaborators who know English, or provide English training courses to the residents to support their guiding works, especially to the young people, who will become the core force to take the place of Mr. Anh in the future. Secondly, due to the need for a home stay for the tourists as well as a place for people to gather, socialise and entertain, CECAD has supported the construction of a new community house which has a Muong cultural style in Tam hamlet. This house is under construction and will be completed at the end of July 2011. The Tam hamlet’s cultural house will be a new place in Tu Ne and Thanh Hoi tourism program. In addition, CECAD is trying to find a spot to open a souvenir shop in Tu Ne commune to serve the tourists who want to buy brocade products of Muong people such as blankets, dresses, shirts, etc.Furthermore, a new brochure which will provide tourists more information about community-based ecotourism in Tu Ne and Thanh Hoi than the previous one is in the process of designing and printing. From February to July 2011, Alice Elizabeth Lowe (English) who graduated with Graphic Design and is volunteering in CECAD will work with CECAD staff to complete this tourist brochure. The design is in accuracy testing and will be completed around the end of July 2011. The brochure will then be printed and sent to travel agencies. Hopefully, in the future after the above activities have been completed, the situation of tourism in Tu Ne and Thanh Hoi will be improved, attracting more tourists to those two communes, which will in turn contribute to improving livelihoods, preserving the Muong culture and complete the general goals of the main project.