Tourism boom uplifts local communities in Vietnam

May 26, 2019 | 04:00 pm GMT+7
Alongside boosting a destination’s profile, several tourism and ecotourism projects have given struggling locals an uplifting livelihood.

Twenty years ago, the Han River, which runs through the heart of Da Nang City, separated the rich from the poor.

The city’s ramshackle neighborhoods were clearly visible along the eastern riverbank, where Lai runs her hugely popular Banh xeo ba Duong (Madam Duong’s Banh Xeo) pancake stall.

"In 1980s and 1990s, there was nothing much to do in Da Nang. For many residents the thrill was to cross the bridge over the Han River. On weekends, some families would go for a picnic to the top of Ba Na Mountain by some old ruined French villas, but I never went there. I was too busy trying to make a living", said Lai.

Madam Duong’s Banh Xeo is one of the most famous restaurants of sizzling pancake in Da Nang.

Madam Duong’s Banh Xeo is one of the most famous restaurants of sizzling pancake in Da Nang.

In those days, Da Nang was a small city with a sleepy disposition. But since 2007, 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 Da Nang - where tourists were rarely seen as they preferred to stay by the beach - has become a much livelier place. Nowadays, at Lai’s restaurant, domestic and international tourists share tables as they feast on specialties like banh xeo and nem lui.

"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 Lai who was amazed when she arrived high up in the mountains. "I felt like I was stepping into paradise. I could not believe how beautiful it was, with the French village and flower gardens".

In 2018, more than half of the 7,6 million tourists visiting Da Nang traveled to the Ba Na Hills, mostly by cable car. Since being unveiled to the world last year, the stunning Golden Bridge - already considered an iconic landmark in Vietnam - has become a must-see destination for foreign visitors to the city.

Now the whole of Da Nang 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

Tourism has also been a boon for Ha Long town in northern Quang Ninh Province.

Doan Minh Tuyen studied electromechanical engineering, but was unable to find work in his area of study.

"I went to Hanoi and worked as a taxi driver for 10 years, but I struggled to make a living", says 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 Ha Long 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 take care of my family".

Doan Minh Tuyen.

Doan Minh Tuyen.

Tuyen often picks up guests near the Sun World Ha Long Park, which has re-energized the area around Bai Chay (Chay beach). Now, every evening, the brightly lit town center bustles with a mix of international and domestic tourists roaming the streets, shopping and feasting on local specialties. Local food vendors are also thriving and making higher incomes than ever.

Just seven years ago, Ha Long, which sits on the threshold of the world heritage site, Ha Long Bay, was routinely overlooked. Tourists just passed through the town on the way to the bay. Many wouldn’t even stay one night in the town. But a number of high-profile tourism and infrastructure projects have transformed the town, making Ha Long 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. In 2018, a record 12,2 million visitors came to Quang Ninh Province, generating VND24 trillion ($1,03 billion) in revenue, an increase of 28 percent year-on-year, and it’s expected that 2019 will post even higher stats.

Far-reaching changes

When applying for a security officer’s position at the Sun World Fansipan Legend tourist complex in Sa Pa town, Lao Cai Province, Ma A Tong and his family were burdened with a debt of over VND30 million ($1,290). His wife had a little farm, but it was not big enough to feed their family. Tong borrowed VND7 million to pay tuition fees for a course on how to be a tour guide, but he was forced to abandon the course to help his family build a temporary shelter on the hillside. "Luckily I got a job at the Sun World Fansipan Legend. If I hadn’t, I really don’t know what would have happened to us", says Tong.

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

Ma A Tong.

Ma A Tong.

Since the Fansipan cable car was put into operation in 2016, many ethnic minorities living around Sa Pa have benefitted from the burgeoning tourism industry.

According to Nguyen Xuan Chien, director of the Sun World Fansipan Legend, one third of employees working in the tourism complex are local ethnic minority people, mainly from the H’Mong, Day and Thai communities.

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

Sun World Fansipan Legend.

Sun World Fansipan Legend.

In 2018, the number of tourists coming to Lao Cai reached 4.25 million, an increase of 79 percent compared to 2015, when the Fansipan Cable Car and Sun World Fansipan Legend were yet to open.

It’s evident that strategic investments in certain destinations have not only transformed landscapes into tourism paradises, but also provided jobs and generated income for struggling locals.

From barely eking out a living, they enjoy increased incomes and a higher quality of life.

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