* This article is featured on Asia Life Magazine (March 7, 2018). Here under is the full version of the article.
Danang-based Evergreen Labs is a social enterprise that focuses on the triple bottom line: social; environmental; and financial returns.
Working with like-minded entrepreneurs and local partners, Evergreen Labs aims to develop and support businesses that drive social and environmental sustainability and empower those on the bottom of the pyramid of workers, all while focused on financial returns.
Within this framework, Evergreen Labs is focusing on community-based tourism in Vietnam to transform businesses into sustainable, profitable and mutually-beneficial operations for all of its stakeholders.
Community-based tourism is a subcategory of responsible tourism, in which local residents from marginalised communities generate income through homestays, food, and other services. Sadly, current community-based tourism practices in Vietnam do not greatly benefit local communities and for various reasons often fail.
Evergreen Labs and the International Labor Organisation are now researching why community-based tourism has not been successful in Vietnam, with a view to finding some solutions to transform the segment.
Vietnam has 53 ethnic minority groups, each with individual cultures, traditions, languages and food. Industrialisation has caused these cultures to integrate into the modern world, leading to the loss of identity and traditions. Community-based tourism aims to preserve cultures through sustainable tourism practices that conserve the environment and communities.
Over the past decade, aid agencies, government bodies and tourism agencies have developed an estimated 250 community-based tourism projects throughout Vietnam. But only an estimated 10% of the projects were successful, mainly because of a lack of experience, support and expectation management. In many cases, local communities were exploited, commodified and left to fend for themselves when the developers left.
The challenges of Vietnam’s fragmented community-based tourism ecosystem are being addressed by Evergreen Labs’ Vietnam Community-Based Tourism Network, which works to transform the industry into a sustainable, empowering and profitable sector through supporting development, market access, knowledge sharing and quality control.
There are two ways the network supports development of projects. First through Last Mile Development, where consultancy is provided to communities that already have programmes in place but still need support in implementing sustainable and beneficial operations, and expanding their tourism products. Second, through grassroot development, with the Vietnam Community-Based Tourism Network helps develop projects with the potential for a sustainable outcome.
Often community-based tourism initiatives never make it to the market because of a lack of support and know-how within communities. The Vietnam Community-Based Tourism Network increases market access by creating marketing material and linking programs to tour desks, as well as listing the tourism products on online portals including the VCBT-N.com website. The network also helps create customised tours for travel companies, study groups and corporate retreats.
Sharing the Knowledge
In the past, community-based tourism stakeholders have not exchanged experiences and pitfalls. The Vietnam Community-Based Tourism Network aims to make the know-how accessible to all. The network provides consulting services, including feasibility studies, operational improvements, process implementation, training, and destination and product scouting.
The Vietnam Community-Based Tourism Network will also focus on quality control, firstly for its members and then via a nationally recognised certification system. While this process takes time, the impact will be substantial and greatly benefit the communities, tourists and operators alike.
One project that showcases the benefits of the Vietnam Community-based Tourism Network is A Hua Village, about 60km southwest of Hue.
A Luoi is a scenic mountainous district nestled between the A Shau Valley and the Laotian border. For many years, this off-the-beaten-track destination has been renowned for its cultural richness with different hill tribe minorities, lush mountain ranges, rice fields, and breathtaking panoramic views.
Perched in the hills 7 km away from the main town, Vel (village) A Hua is home to 280 Ta-oi and Pa-Co people, two Mon-Khmer ethnic groups based mainly in mountainous areas of Vietnam’s central provinces.
Last Mile Development
Through the scouting and support efforts of the Vietnam Community-Based Tourism Network, A Hua was identified as a project worth developing through its Last Mile Development programme. Funded through a social crowdfunding campaign on startsomegood.com, new accomodation options were implemented, community members were trained in catering, hospitality and tour guiding, and the activities and programmes available in the village were listed on the Local Alike website.
Its success in improving livelihoods for minority ethnic groups as well as high quality tours for visitors has been already begun and continues to flourish with support from the Vietnam Community-Based Tourism Network. After launching in September 2017, more than 25 visitors have enjoyed this community-based tourism project in A Hua village.
Currently, Vietnam Community-Based Tourism Network has more 70 members and is still growing.
The network supports developers, communities, agencies, organisations, and travel companies that have interests in Vietnam’s community-based tourism sector and all are invited to register and join the network at www.vcbt-n.com.
As the operator of this network, Evergreen Labs welcomes new members interested in working towards a common goal of creating financial sustainability for community-led operations in Vietnam.