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    Having the opportunity to meet Mr. Duong Minh Binh, the father of Community-based Tourism Travel (CBT Travel), a social enterprise specializing in community tourism consultancy and development in Vietnam, Destination Review could learn more about how the enterprise works and its contribution to the community tourism in Vietnam.

    Within the past 7 years, Mr. Duong Minh Binh along with CBT Travel has been putting all his heart out to help the local communities restructure so that they can earn more through tourism, thus, gaining “enormous treasure” of various homestays in local communities across the country.

    How did you start working for community tourism?

    I have worked with major travel groups and have learned many things through experiences. Even in this period, I already had the intention to help the local community, giving a few general suggestions when I had some projects in the countryside so that they could improve their operations.

    At the end of 2013, just before my retirement, I was introduced to participate in a community tourism project in Mai Chau. I noticed that the bungalows in the resorts are actually the stilt houses of our people. While the resorts have to build them from scratch, the local people have lived in them for their whole life. So I came up with the idea of turning people’s stilt houses into accommodation with the standards of a resort.

    Since then, CBT Travel was founded with the vision to help local people with poverty eradication based on tourism and to convey the message of “Each trip is a journey of sharing for the community” to visitors. It goes to each local village to research and restructure these communities into homestay models which represent the significant characteristics of the culture in each place. Moreover, it also connects with travel companies and tour operators to provide the locals with a stable amount of visitors.

    How has CBT Travel been developing community tourism in Vietnam so far?

    After being invited by the local authority, we thoroughly study the area from a practical perspective to see the possibility of deploying community tourism or not. If feasible, the next step is to use real images to persuade the community to come to see other communities as an example. Then, with financial local support, we will organize field trips to one of our homestay models so that they can decide to invest in restructuring. Most importantly, the main source of capital is entirely from the local community.

    Only when the local community invests to do tourism will the government support and CBT Travel agrees to consult. Only when local people take ownership of the tourism products and get direct profits will they be accountable for what they have. Only when they are willing to do will we be able to orientate them. Local people will go back to help the community once they are profitable. With their own capital, building and managing, witnessing gaining profit from their own values and identities, they then know they have to try whatever it takes to preserve these values.

    With the idea of turning people’s stilt houses into the accommodation with standard services of a resort, we consult them on how to transform the very houses they live in into homestays that meet the basic needs of visitors, and to add more services that can be used from the available facilities to minimize cost while ensuring guests’ comfort. However, it is still necessary to preserve the expression of the cultural identity of each community through the homestays. They have to make everything closely align with their lives but that doesn’t mean the homestays can be dirty or unsanitary.

    We also advise them to renovate and upgrade the food they serve, inviting professional chefs to instruct the locals on how to create dishes using ingredients available within the community. We want to make sure that the food delivered to visitors is edible for both foreigners and Vietnamese, including residents from North to South.
    To renovate the sleeping area, we suggest them to separate the sleeping area from the common area. For most minority groups in the northern region, they usually clean the place where they dine and spread the mattress over it to sleep, which is unhygienic and may attract the insects at night. In addition, I consult them to take advantage of local materials available to enhance guests’ comfort like using cherry branches to hang mosquito nets, turning bamboo tubes into bedroom lamps, ashtrays, etc. By taking advantage of such familiar materials, they are even able to sell these products to visitors. While planning, I also look for materials which are inexpensive but highly effective for the community to utilize.

    It is not until ensuring the basic needs of guests that we start to contemplate how to create experiences for them from what is available within the community. We must understand that travelers choose these communities because they want to return to the local environment and identities, so all we have to do is simply to make sure they enjoy the area in their activities. It can be as simple as hiking, cycling, swimming in the waterfall, river bamboo rafting, or trekking in the forest to another community, etc.

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    All of these are just details but as a result, most visitors, both Vietnamese and foreign travelers, are willing to join and experience the everyday life of the local community.

    Most importantly, all experiences are implemented and operated by local people. There is no tour operator in charge and our team only provides professional support to the people for them to do it themselves.

    So during the process of consulting for local communities, can you tell what challenges you and CBT Travel have to face?

    So during the process of consulting for local communities, can you tell what challenges you and CBT Travel have to face?

    To be honest, it was extremely difficult to gain the trust and cooperation of the people in the early stage. Due to the consequences they were suffering from previous short-term CBT projects, local people have an unfavorable outlook when it comes to “community tourism”. But fortunately, we started to develop community tourism from communities where it was most unlikely to succeed, and once it did succeed, the reputation spread to other regions.

    Switching to tourism which is unfamiliar to local people, they will definitely be afraid and hesitant. Thus, we must convince them, provide them with tourism expertise and ensure profits directly back to them. Only then will they do.

    Later, the process became easier thanks to the available homestay models from which other local communities can see how the models are being applied with their own eyes. Once they are convinced by effectiveness, they will proactively follow our consultation.

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    Overcoming the difficulties, CBT Travel has been operating for 7 years and has helped various local communities across the country. What achievements has CBT Travel gained?

    Overcoming the difficulties, CBT Travel has been operating for 7 years and has helped various local communities across the country. What achievements has CBT Travel gained?

    At first, CBT was built mainly for the target market of foreign visitors. Vietnamese visitors at that time accounted for about 10% only but now, Vietnamese visitors have increased by 50%. Before COVID, the total number of visitors to our homestays in Vietnam reached about 600,000-700,000. CBT originally set the target of reaching 1 million visitors this year and 5 million visitors by 2025 if it had not been for COVID. The target is such high because in all places, tourist arrivals increase exponentially: in the first year of operation there were only 474 arrivals but in the second year it increased to 2,000, then to 5,000 and 9,000 guests.

    Most importantly, local people have gradually changed their perception of hygiene and tourism since they followed our advice. From being required to keep the surrounding environment green, clean, and beautiful, everyone now understands they should keep their village clean. They now know the more clean they keep, the more beautiful the destination will be and the more visitors will come. Therefore, it can be said that this model will help local communities change in a more positive direction.

    After a period of adhering to the initial standards, the community may develop additional activities, even exceeding our expectations since they know best what their community has. They are now proud to show their culture and identity out instead of feeling ashamed to be in a minority community like before.

    What is CBT Travel planning to do next so as to continue exploiting the potentials of Vietnam community tourism?

    Vietnam has not only many local ethnic groups but also a great amount of other overwhelming landscapes like forests, islands, rice fields, terraced fields, tea hills, bamboo forests, waterfalls, etc. The potentials Vietnam has is enormous but the management is not quite applicable yet and the organizations that want to help the communities do not have expertise. If we just do community tourism in a stereotypic way, it will not be effective. Instead, we must understand the core values of each ethnic group and make adjustments based on these, then can we develop tourism community.

    In the coming time, we will continue to accompany the local communities in further expansion and development. Taking advantage of the low season in the pandemic, we and some communities handed on renovating their houses, building more rooms to prepare to accommodate guests in the future. In addition, amid-COVID, the local communities still decided to invested and there are 2 homestays from CBT Travel to be open in Soc Trang and Thanh Hoa.

    Thank you for sharing and wish you plenty of health to accompany CBT Travel as well as Vietnam community tourism in the long term.

    #BusinessSpotlight is a series featuring outstanding business stories and initiatives in tourism and travel.

    BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: CBT Travel with the dream of developing Vietnam community tourism potentials

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