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    Since the late 90s, Mr. Vu Minh Anh, Founder & CEO of Terraverde Travel, has always maintained his pioneering spirit and passion for bringing complete experiences to visitors.

    Destination Review had a chat with him to learn about his point of view on running the company in line with his commitment to responsible tourism over the past 15 years.

    I approached the tourism industry while still living and studying abroad. At that time, I participated as a French guide for a number of tours going through England and France. Since then, I also started to rekindle my interest in this industry. And at one point, I thought of Vietnam and really wanted to develop tourism in my hometown. When I decided to open a company in Vietnam, I contacted some seniors in the industry and learned about local companies. From there, I can better understand the general picture of the tourism industry in Vietnam to prepare for Terraverde.

    Looking back at that time, most travel companies in Vietnam had the same model, no one had thought about how to bring authentic and unique experiences to tourists or how can we minimize the negative impacts on the community. However, I was fortunate to meet the first partner company in Germany that is one of the pioneers in the field of sustainable tourism, they are also one of the co-founders of the “Forum anders reisen” – a prestigious forum that has built up a system of criteria for sustainable tourism that is valid to this day. This is also a support that helped me solidify my decision when developing the company in the direction of responsible tourism, a market that can be considered a niche but still very new in Vietnam at that time. What we did then as pioneers is now commonplace, but I am very proud that we were able to lay the foundation for sustainability in Vietnam so early.

    I think part of it is also because I am willing to learn from customers, from the international market, which is ahead of our domestic market in terms of development to grasp future trends. At that time, the western region of Vietnam or remote areas was not as easily accessible as today, but they brought a lot of experiences close to the local people and created positive values ​​for the local communities when they have access to tourism activities. In the beginning, I just relied on inspiration and instinct when developing products. Customers were the best testers because they were the ones who experienced it firsthand and could contribute their comments for us to improve. In short, at some point, the profession will be charming, and people will choose a career that they can refine and do the most complete, these are also the criteria of the company that I have always kept until now.

    For me, there are 3 main factors in business: People, Planet and Profit. However, balancing all three of these factors is not easy. Ensuring the development strategy is always on the right track is the first difficulty. Initially, when I opened the company, I had 2 co-founders, but after a few months, they withdrew because they did not have the same idea. For them, profit is the most important factor, but I don’t think so. In my opinion, when doing business, I must keep the commitment to customers, and make sure my tour has its own unique experience, as well as the customers must feel that commitment. At that time, I would rather lose money than lose the trust of partners and customers. I promise a sustainable product, so I also have to find local partners who can supply and execute the best.

    The next thing to consider is the perception issue. Influencing the perception of people is not easy, but in the tourism industry, we even have to synchronously educate both staff, guides, supply partners, and customers so that they understand what is sustainable tourism, or what is responsible tourism. These concepts may be well-known today, but when we first started, they were still ambiguous.

    In addition, another problem to solve is how to make guests have a certain comfort while minimizing the impact on the weather and the environment. People often think of big problems, but for me, we need to start from the most ordinary things such as limiting the engine start during the trip, taking advantage of the natural cool wind instead of always having to turn on the air conditioner, using a local restaurant, or bring dishes when going on a picnic because we don’t want to use a lot of plastic, but we will buy local food to support the local community.

    Actually, I think leadership is not something big or far-fetched. Especially during the recent epidemic, I also had time to look back and reflect on what I did right, what I did wrong, and what I felt was effective and sustainable. I find that many employees stick with me for a long time because, in part, they feel that the company also keeps its commitment to take care of its employees even in the most difficult times. It’s not just about being ethical or showing your worth when you’re well off, but when times are tough, the way the company’s management treats employees and suppliers becomes even more important.

    In particular, the decisive factor for me is “integrity”, not referring to the moral issue of right and wrong, but showing wholeness. Integrity is when we treat each other kindly, we do what we promise, and from there, employees also feel the true value of the company. For example, if I want employees to arrive on time, I must first be on time myself, I must show everyone that if only one person, regardless of position, when not comply with the collective rules, the company’s performance will be greatly reduced. Besides, a basic principle is that whatever we do, we must keep standards in our mind throughout the process, and must aim to bring the best value for customers. From there, when employees understand the value they can create, integrity will be enhanced, and I will be able to empower them more in their work.

    Actually, I think leadership is not something big or far-fetched. Especially during the recent epidemic, I also had time to look back and reflect on what I did right, what I did wrong, and what I felt was effective and sustainable. I find that many employees stick with me for a long time because, in part, they feel that the company also keeps its commitment to take care of its employees even in the most difficult times. It’s not just about being ethical or showing your worth when you’re well off, but when times are tough, the way the company’s management treats employees and suppliers becomes even more important.

    In particular, the decisive factor for me is “integrity”, not referring to the moral issue of right and wrong, but showing wholeness. Integrity is when we treat each other kindly, we do what we promise, and from there, employees also feel the true value of the company. For example, if I want employees to arrive on time, I must first be on time myself, I must show everyone that if only one person, regardless of position, when not comply with the collective rules, the company’s performance will be greatly reduced. Besides, a basic principle is that whatever we do, we must keep standards in our mind throughout the process, and must aim to bring the best value for customers. From there, when employees understand the value they can create, integrity will be enhanced, and I will be able to empower them more in their work.

    When employees are autonomous, they might make mistakes, and that’s okay, we will find a way to fix it. But they must understand the consequences of each mistake, that is, if one link is not complete, it will affect the whole chain, affect the product, and also show that you do not keep your promises to your colleagues, your customers, and your superiors. Thus, employees will gradually understand deeply the profound meaning of serving customers and the service industry. It is not only work but also becomes a philosophy of life. At Terraverde Travel, no one has to talk about work-life balance. Employees stay true to the company’s values ​​and the company will be flexible to no longer manage their time, but only care about the work results.

    Talking about the current trend of sustainable or responsible tourism development, we can look at the Maslow pyramid model of human needs for reference. Currently, we are at a stage where travel agencies, hotels, suppliers, and stakeholders in the tourism ecosystem are all in a state of “survival”. After a long time of the epidemic, a lot of things in the industry have changed, from the state of the business to the needs of the market. Therefore, I do not think we can talk loudly or invest too much to innovate, but need to return to the old trajectory first. On the other hand, perhaps a good advantage and also an opportunity for businesses that are developing towards sustainable tourism is that the recent pandemic has made people more aware of their impact on the environment when traveling. So when things gradually return to normal, a sense of responsibility when traveling becomes a must-do for many travelers. However, I am also quite sorry that the Vietnamese tourism industry has not been able to take advantage of the past 2 years to sit together and have synchronous strategies to help bring a better transformation.

    Sustainable development is not an overnight story, we need to have resources to build a sustainable management system, then sustainable products, and ways to help ensure good quality. Our company always maintains the position of Sustainability manager to check whether each of our products is in accordance with the sustainability criteria. Every year, we have to report to our partners in detail about our sustainable practices and re-survey local suppliers.

    Regarding the plan in the near future, we will continue to explore new directions, such as products on the Dong Nai River. In the past, we have done a lot of products on the river and I consider it a great experience in Vietnam because it leaves a low impact on the environment and we can have impromptu journeys along the river, without being stereotyped. Currently, when it comes to river tours, most people will do tours to the west of Vietnam, so I want to pioneer in exploiting the Dong Nai River with a new perspective. We can learn about factories and ceramic production facilities in Bien Hoa which also meet the post-pandemic demand of people who want to go to the suburbs. Especially, foreign guests will be very excited when just stepping out a little from the magnificent Ho Chi Minh City, they can immediately have a rural experience imbued with Vietnamese culture.

    Besides that, I am also focusing on inspecting tier 2 and tier 3 destinations, which still retain their wild character, and find out which models are not yet popular that would fit into our product philosophies. We also learn from international models to apply them to the Vietnamese market with an understanding of the local culture and community. The main job of DMC like us is to find the pearls and string them together into a beautiful necklace.

    Thank you for your sharing!

    #The Leaders is a series exploiting the management and business development vision of leaders in the industry.

    Mr. Vu Minh Anh, CEO of Terraverde Travel: “I think leadership is not something big or far-fetched”

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