As Covid evolves, so does tourism industry

February 22, 2022 | 07:40 pm PT
Nguyen Ngoc Han Artist
Five years ago I was asked by an NGO to oversee a street mural project in Mai Chau, Hoa Binh Province, by tourism authorities.

I got a group of 24 students from the University of Industrial Fine Arts to come and paint for 12 days. We stayed at a humble homestay during our time there.

Some NGOs saw the homestay model as a tourism opportunity for the region and brought it there. The local Thai people already had stilt houses and the NGOs provided them with blankets, pillows and cushions.

They also instructed locals on how to operate and how to cook local cuisine to better suit the palates of tourists among other aspects of running a homestay business.

We went to people's homes to convince them to switch to the business and also set up coffee shops so the entire village could become a tourist destination. But since the locals had had little experience in running tourist businesses, it was difficult to persuade them. They appreciated our help with the murals and invited us to meals, but not many bothered about tourism development.

After spending half a month with them we decided to buy ourselves a small piece of land so that we could return to this place in the future. But the project manager convinced us to turn it into a homestay and join hands with locals for tourism development.

Now, both I and my husband are artists, not businesspeople, and the decision to open a homestay 15 km from Mai Chau was a risky one. Will anyone even visit a valley where people grow vegetables for a living?

We had neither stilt houses like the Thai people nor the money to build them from scratch, and so we traveled to neighboring areas and bought locals' stilt houses. The project became our passion.

But Covid-19 came and swept everything away.

All the tourist models that ever existed in Vietnam were blasted to smithereens, shaken to their foundations, hotels closed and families that ran homestays lost interest, tour agencies went bust, and locals gradually lost their hospitality skills.

It really seemed to be the end of tourism.

So where do we go from here?

But some tourism trends survived, even thrived, during the waves of Covid: slow tourism, community-based tourism and staycations.

Staycations seem to be the current zeitgeist, both during and after Covid. While flights remain grounded, people began to opt for locations close to home. Tourist destinations four hours away from home by car are getting more popular than ever. For instance, a high-end resort just 10 km away from our place that costs between VND4 million and VND28 million ($175-1,230) a night is always packed during weekends.

People camp on an islet by the Red River in Long Bien District, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh

People camp on an islet by the Red River in Long Bien District, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh

New tourism opportunities revolving around major cities are ripe for investment. I was glad to see some fellow artists, inspired by what we did, also opening their own homestay and farmstay places around Hanoi. This trend is likely to continue this year as Covid lingers and long car rides become a habit.

Slow tourism is also a trend that many people overlooked. Through the Covid period we had a number of families that stayed at our homestay for entire months.

As companies allow employees to work remotely, a location far from the hustle and bustle of urban environments is ideal to enjoy life and reduces the chance of infection. This form of tourism has great potential, especially if foreign tourists are allowed to visit since they much prefer winding down during their trips instead of going to busy, noisy places.

Community-based tourism is also a rising global trend. In times of difficulties, boosting tourism isn't a job for a single individual or business. We convince entire villages to go all in, with one home providing bikes for rent while another has guides for tourists. Tourists get the full experience package of being inside a community: from planting to harvesting crops with locals and enjoying the fruits of their labor.

We would decide on an appropriate price range to prevent commercialization and unhealthy competition, and do not seek profits from people’s work.

This year Vietnam is beginning to reopen to international travelers. To make full use of the opportunity, tourism businesses should not close themselves off but integrate with nature and local communities. People should be part of the plan.

We are gradually reviving our tourism industry and taking it back to where it once was. Tourism ideas that give communities a chance to join hands, flourish and prosper are the way to shake off the impacts of the coronavirus.

*Nguyen Ngoc Han is a Vietnamese artist. The opinions expressed are her own.

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