Vu Ngoc Huan (44) from the Tay ethnic minority group, who is secretary of Na O village’s party committee and director of An Lac Community Tourism Service Cooperative, was one of the first local people developing the homestay model.
Over ten years ago, the people in An Lac commune did not know about the homestay model although foreign delegations sometimes came to stay and experience production activities along with villagers. However, in recent years, they have invested in accommodation, developed cooking services, trained guides and organised cultural programmes to serve visitors. Huan has pioneered the repair and upgrade of houses, gardens and auxiliary works for visitors to stay in as well as enjoy the local food.
Understanding that the development of community-based tourism should involve the participation of all the people, he encouraged and supported his neighbours to develop the necessary infrastructure and move breeding area away from the accommodation to meet the guests’ demand. He shared: “I joined training courses on tourism and witnessed the successful developments in many localities such as Hoa Binh, Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang, Nam Dinh, Phu Tho and Son La. Realising the potential of An Lac, in 2014, I decided to establish the An Lac Community Tourism Service Cooperative comprising seven members, each of whom managing a service group with the participation of dozens of Tay ethnic people”.
In the days when there were no tourists, the cooperative’s members still worked in the fields. However, whenever the guests came, they were willing to put aside their daily work to serve the visitors. Firstly, the locals were worried the investment amount was too high (nearly VND100 million). They wondered whether visitors could stay in the mountainous conditions as the guests came from mainly cities and foreign countries.
Huan continued to encourage the cooperative’s members to upgrade their houses to not only improve their families’ living conditions but also develop the tourism potential. They actively learned and participated in training courses. Up until now, Na O village has five households (all from the Tay ethnic group) owning standard facilities that can receive up to over 50 visitors. In addition to his current house, Vu Ngoc Huan invested around VND1.8 billion to build a traditional stilt house equipped with all creature comforts. Over the past few years, the homestays of Huan and others in Na O have welcomed dozens of domestic and foreign visitors with an average holiday period of 7-10 days for each.
Stimulating the potential
Huan and the locals are urgently repairing the camps, re-installing signs and clearing the roads and the environment of the Khe Ro primeval forest. Huan and other members of the cooperative have walked through many kilometres of forest to improve the tourist area, protect the forest and pick vegetables as well as crossing streams to catch fish for the visitors’ meals. They have also given art performances to serve the guests. Huan said: “In the first four months of this year, the area was deserted due to Covid-19 pandemic. The locality is expected to attract more tourists during the summer and we have to re-roof the huts with the leaves for visitors to stay in”.
An Lac Community Tourism Service Cooperative has also welcomed visitors to the Khe Ro ecological tourist area as well as providing numerous services for them, contributing to ensuring their safety, security and order. Accordingly, its members can earn around VND3.5 million per month during the summer. The cooperative has always closely coordinated with the authorities and forest rangers to inform both the local people and visitors to raise their awareness of forest protection.
Since 2010, Bac Giang provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and the GTV non-governmental organisation have jointly organised training courses on community-based tourism for the An Lac people. They have focused on cooking, guiding tours, art performances, beekeeping, making traditional medicines, cleaning the environment, healthcare and international culture. The provincial cultural sector has continued to support the preservation and promotion of cultural identities as well as presenting blankets, sheets, pillows, televisions and amplified radio speakers and building closed toilets for the households to develop tourism. As a result, many organisations and enterprises have introduced and accepted visitors into Khe Ro, contributing to increasing the incomes of the local ethnic minority people.