Aus4EqualityGREAT storiesCommunity-based tourism develops the village economy for women plum growers

Community-based tourism develops the village economy for women plum growers

Moc Chau District, Son La Province, is located at an average altitude of about 1,050m above sea level, 180km northwest of Hanoi. The land is fertile with a temperate climate, a diverse ecosystem and scenic landscape. Home to 12 ethnic groups, Moc Chau also has diverse and unique cultures.

With these distinctive natural and cultural assets, Moc Chau government agencies and communities are working on the development of community tourism. Domestic and international tourists can experience agricultural activities and learn about the lives of indigenous people during community homestays, often in traditional houses built on stilts. They can experience aspects of the local lifestyle, such as fruit picking and organic vegetable production, and they can immerse themselves in cultural activities, such as Thai traditional dance, and enjoy the local cuisine.

Traditional dance of Thai women in Moc Chau

In recent years, the Gender Responsive Equitable Agriculture and Tourism (GREAT) Program, funded by the Australian Government, has supported the people of Ta So 1 and Ta So 2 villages in Chieng Hac Commune, Moc Chau to develop community-based tourism, improve women’s capacity and increase household income.

The two Ta So villages are home to 330 households, of which six are investing in developing homestay services in traditional Mong houses with thatched roofs and wooden walls, located among the specialty plum gardens of Moc Chau.

Located on the top of a hill at 1,100 meters above sea level, Hoa Phong homestay is run by Sung Y Hoa and Mua A Hang’s family and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area due to its majestic scenery and location in a romantic plum garden.

Homestay of Mua A Hang and Sung Y Hoa

The name Hoa Phong is reminiscent of two specialties of this land – flowers and wind. The homestay has two private rooms and the family is completing a dormitory room that can accommodate 20 guests.

“In the past, my family worked in agriculture and only knew how to grow plums and peaches. Since 2021, when the Ta So villages were selected as a community-based tourism site, we embarked on a homestay model,” Hang said.

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism activities were suspended for many months. Therefore, in 2021, they only received nine visitors. However, Hang explained that the revenue from homestay was much higher than from farming.

“On average, we receive VND10 million per month to welcome two groups of guests. The annual total revenue may reach VND120 million, and farming accounts for only 20% of that total income. When tourism recovers, we will receive visitors every week and the income will be even higher,” he said.

Hang’s wife, Sung Y Hoa, said that by participating in the GREAT-supported project, they were supported with loans with very low interest, so they could confidently invest VND200 million to build the homestay.

In addition, Hoa was trained in tourism skills such as cooking, welcoming guests and improving the homestay decor. She also had the opportunity to visit successful community-based tourism models in other provinces, including Lao Cai and Lai Chau.

Sung Y Hoa cleans her homestay to welcome guests

“Since joining the GREAT program, I have enjoyed learning to cook the most. Domestic and international tourists have different eating habits. For example, when serving Vietnamese guests, I put shared dishes on bamboo mats but foreign guests often eat individually, so I set up separate plates for them,” Hoa said.

At first, Hoa was worried because she did not have any experience in tourism, but once she had hosted the first groups of guests, she began to feel more confident. Thanks to the GREAT Program, she gained more knowledge and skills to confidently talk to guests and explain the local culture and scenery.

Mua A Lu, head of Ta So 2 Village, said that tourism had not yet resulted in a significant increase in income for the community due to COVID-19, but since the households had invested in the homestays, the village was cleaner and more picturesque.

“I noticed that after participating in the GREAT training courses, women in the village have changed a lot. They are aware of gender equality, are more confident and are actively involved in managing the family budget. Previously, when there were guests at home, the wives used to stay in the kitchen. Now they receive and interact with guests, perform traditional dances, cook, clean rooms and talk with the guests about the local lifestyle,” he said.

Ms Dinh Thi Huong, Head of the Culture and Information Department of Moc Chau District, appreciated the influence of the GREAT Program among the community, particularly women. She confirmed that the local government will work with GREAT to continue to build women’s confidence and help more women to participate in the economy.

“GREAT helps develop agriculture, community-based tourism and tourism linked to locally-made products that use local produce and materials, such as wooden toothpick boxes, knives and lipstick made from sachi seeds. Women’s confidence has improved significantly,” she said.

As a result of its involvement with the GREAT Program, the local government will  continue to research and issue policies to support loans with competitive interest rates for those who invest in developing community-based tourism. The local authorities will also promote the destination and tourism products and coordinate with travel companies to develop tours. This support will not only build the tourism industry in Moc Chau, but it will help people preserve and promote the diverse culture of the area while also developing the local economy.