Australian Ambassador visits projects n Lao Cai Province
A delegation from the Australian Embassy in Vietnam visited Lao Cai Province from 5 to 6 June 2022 to meet with local government leaders, businesses and communities benefiting from Australia’s investment in the province. Joining the delegation, Australia’s Ambassador to Vietnam, H.E Ms. Robyn Mudie, met with community-based tourism service providers, including those run by ethnic minority women, to understand how Australia’s support is helping to strengthen tourism-related economic opportunities for businesses and communities.
Australia remains committed to supporting socio-economic development in northwest Vietnam, and the Gender Responsive Equitable Agriculture and Tourism (GREAT) program is supporting small, community-based businesses, including women-led businesses, to identify opportunities for increased market participation and improve economic opportunities and livelihoods.
GREAT is Australia’s most significant gender investment in Vietnam, totaling A$33.7 million. The program works with businesses, NGOs, and government partners to build more inclusive business and market systems within the agriculture and tourism sectors in Son La and Lao Cai provinces, to ensure that local women and ethnic minorities actively participate in and benefit from related economic activities and growth.
The Embassy delegation visited a herbal bath project in Ta Phin Commune, Sapa Town, where they met with the Red Dao Community Cooperative. The delegation heard how GREAT has worked with the project to engage more farmers, including women, to supply the herbs and other inputs, increasing the economic opportunities in the area. A total of 16 producer groups have been established to supply the project, involving 229 households.
With Australian support, the processing and herbal bath facilities were also upgraded and, to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on international visitor numbers, GREAT worked with the project to change the business model to include the domestic market and increase online sales.
Homestay experiences are a cornerstone of community-based tourism in Lao Cai Province, and the delegation met with homestay owners and tourism cooperative members over dinner in Ta Phin. The homestay owners and cooperative members explained how GREAT worked with them during the periods of COVID-19 restrictions to customise products and services and target the domestic tourist market. GREAT also supported homestay owners and cooperative members to upskill in areas such as marketing and to ensure businesses were ‘COVID-safe’.
The new business strategy is working, with 800 domestic tourists enjoying homestays as of March 2022. The tourism cooperative recorded VND 457,000,000 million in income for members – generated from homestays and experiences such as the Red Dao Culture House and herbal baths.
Ambassador Mudie and the delegation also met with personnel from Lao Cai College. The GREAT Program connected Lao Cai College to the Australian-based Chisholm Institute to support the development of a demand-based hospitality training program for ethnic minority students, including women. The Chisholm Institute is working with Lao Cai College to develop short hospitality courses and build the capacity of the College teaching staff.
Five Lao Cai College lecturers have qualified as trainers in the short hospitality courses, which are delivered to Australian standards. Of the 367 students that have graduated, 82% are women, and the majority are ethnic minority women. The training has also translated into jobs, with 324 graduates (88%) finding employment in local hotels and restaurants.
“Despite the challenges of COVID-19, particularly in the tourism industry, it is encouraging to see the progress being made in the tourism sector in Lao Cai. Australia’s enduring partnership with Vietnam and shared commitment to the socio-economic of the northwest of the country is creating a pathway to sustainable, inclusive growth that is opening up economic opportunities, particularly for ethnic minority women.”