Local communities flourish in Vietnam’s leading tourism destinations

May 27, 2019 | 15:53
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A number of high-profile tourism and ecotourism projects have transformed some of the country’s most famous tourism destinations. As a result, many locals who previously struggled to make ends meet, are also thriving.
local communities flourish in vietnams leading tourism destinations
Madam Duong’s Banh Xeo restaurant

The steady rise of Danang

Twenty years ago, the Han River, which runs through the heart of Danang, separated the rich from the poor. The city’s ramshackle neighbourhoods were clearly visible along the eastern riverbank, where Mrs Lai runs her hugely popular Banh xeo ba Duong (Madam Duong’s Banh Xeo). “In the 1980s and 1990s, there was nothing much to do in Danang.

Even at the turn of the century, the greatest joy for many residents was to cross the bridge over the Han River. During weekends, some families would go for a picnic to the top of Ba Na Mountain by the old French villas, but I never went there. I was too busy trying to scrape out a living,” said Mrs Lai.

In those days, Danang was a small city with a sleepy disposition. Since 2007, however, hundreds of infrastructure and urban development projects have been implemented in the city centre, giving the east side of the Han River a dynamic makeover. More recently, downtown Danang – where tourists were rarely seen as they preferred to stay by the beach – has become a much livelier place. Nowadays, at Mrs Lai’s restaurant, domestic and international tourists share a table and feast on specialties like banh xeo and nem lui.

local communities flourish in vietnams leading tourism destinations

“Many of them told us they were coming to see Ba Na Hills and to think I had never been! So in 2013, I decided to go for myself,” says Mrs Lai who was amazed when she arrived to the top of the mountains. “I felt like I was stepping into paradise. I could not believe how beautiful it was with the replica French village and the flower gardens.”

In 2018, Danang welcomed 7.6 million tourists with more than half travelling to Ba Na Hills, mostly by cable-car. Since being unveiled to the world last year, the stunning Golden Bridge – already considered an iconic sight of Vietnam –has become a must-see destination for foreign visitors flying to Danang.

Now the whole of Danang is booming thanks to this spike in tourism that has created jobs for thousands of local people who have been able to lift their families and communities out of poverty.

A better life in Halong city

local communities flourish in vietnams leading tourism destinations
Doan Minh Tuyen

Tourism has also been a boon for the city of Halong. Having studied electromechanical engineering, Doan Minh Tuyen was unable to find work in his field of expertise.

“I went to Hanoi and worked as a taxi driver for 10 years, but I struggled to make a living,” said Tuyen, who decided to move back to his hometown in 2016. “The city had changed so much in that time. The streets were buzzing with tourists. I knew I could make a better living if I worked as a taxi driver in Halong and it’s true. I am busy all day and all evening. In less than two years, I have paid off the loan on my car and I earn a good monthly income, helping me to take care of my family.”

local communities flourish in vietnams leading tourism destinations
Sun World Halong Park

Tuyen often picks up guests near Sun World Halong Park, which has re-energised the area around Bai Chay (Chay beach). Now every evening, the city centre is a wonderland of bright lights, while a mix of international and domestic tourists roam the streets shopping and feasting on local specialities. Local food vendors are also thriving and earning more than ever.

Just seven years ago, Halong, which sits on the threshold of the world heritage Halong Bay, was routinely overlooked. Tourists just passed through the city on the way to the bay. Many wouldn’t even stay a night in the city. However, a number of high-profile tourism and infrastructure projects have transformed the city, making Halong much more accessible, and much more fun.

Now there are theme parks with thrilling rides, such as Typhoon Water Park and Dragon Theme Park, five-star resorts, a newly-opened modern airport and a brand new port exclusively for luxury cruisers, and much more besides. In 2018, a record 12.2 million visitors came to Quang Ninh province, generating VND24 billion ($1.1 million) in revenue, an increase of 28.1 per cent on-year, and it’s expected that 2019 will post even higher figures, helping the city to prosper further.

Far-reaching change in Sapa

local communities flourish in vietnams leading tourism destinations
Sun World Fansipan Legend

When applying for the post of a security officer at Sun World Fansipan Legend tourist complex, Ma A Tong and his family were burdened with a debt of over VND30 million ($1,300). His wife had a little farm, but it was not big enough to feed their family. Tong borrowed VND7 million ($300) to enrol on a tour guide course, but he was forced to abandon the course to help his family build a temporary shelter on the hillside for his family.

“Luckily, I got a job at Sun World Fansipan Legend. If I hadn’t, I really don’t know what would have happened to us,” said Tong.

local communities flourish in vietnams leading tourism destinations
Ma A Tong and his family

After just three years of working at Sun World Fansipan Legend, Tong has paid off all his debts. Moreover, his employer supported him in building a new house and purchasing a new motorbike. Life is good for Tong and his family and for many others.

Since the Fansipan cable car was put into operation in 2016, many ethnic minorities living around Sapa have benefitted from the burgeoning tourism industry. According to Nguyen Xuan Chien, the director of Sun World Fansipan Legend, one-third of employees working at the tourism complex are local ethnic minority people, mainly coming from nearby H’Mong, Day, and Thai communities.

local communities flourish in vietnams leading tourism destinations
local communities flourish in vietnams leading tourism destinations

Beside the eye-catching cable-car system, Sapa is now also home to the five-star Hotel de la Coupole Sapa – MGallery by Sofitel, a stunning creation designed by Bill Bensley under the investment of Sun Group that has set a new benchmark for luxury tourism in Sapa.

In 2018, the number of tourists coming to Lao Cai reached 4,246,590, an increase of 79 per cent compared to 2015, when the Fansipan Cable Car and Sun World Fansipan Legend had yet to open.

It’s clear to see how strategic investments in tourism destinations have made a significant contribution to transforming undeveloped landscapes into tourism paradises, providing jobs and generating income for local people and thereby improving the quality of life.

By Tuan Khanh

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