The idea of rural tourism is a bit of a puzzle for many Vietnamese citizens, said speakers at a recent conference in Ho Chi Minh City discussing the development of craft village tourism in the country.
Ton Gia Hoa, vice chairman of the Vietnam Craft Villages Association said most Vietnamese families who have migrated to the larger metropolitan areas go back to their village often.
“They don’t really see the value of paying good money to go visit some other village on their holiday,” said Mr Hoa.
Rustic charms hold greater appeal for foreign tourists, he said, and though concerted government and travel industry efforts to promote Vietnam’s rural tourism have begun, they have had limited success to date.
The Vietnam rural tourism industry is still in its infancy and still evolving.
"Any form of tourism that showcases rural life, art, culture and heritage at rural locations, thereby benefiting the local community economically and socially, can be termed rural tourism,” said Mr Hoa.
Le Van Hung, a senior official of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, in turn said “it is multifaceted and may entail farm or agricultural tourism, cultural tourism, nature tourism, adventure tourism, ecotourism and craft village tourism.”
“Most importantly,” it encompasses any activity that takes place in the small villages or countryside and enables interaction between the tourists and the locals for a more enriching tourism experience."
Mr Hung said, as against conventional tourism, rural tourism has certain typical characteristics – it is experience-oriented; the locations are sparsely populated; it is predominantly in natural environments; it meshes with seasonality and local events; and it is based on the preservation of culture, heritage and traditions.
Ecotourism – which concerns itself with the preservation of the environment while offering the best to tourists – is more fashionable these days and many in government and the tourism industry would like to focus on ecotourism rather than rural tourism.
"Though ecotourism and rural tourism are not exactly the same maybe they should be clubbed together for greater benefits," said Mr Hung.
He said another obstacle facing the development of craft villages is that the majority of people living in the villages perceive them and their homesteads as underprivileged and themselves as without opportunity.
Due to a lack of sufficient information and exposure to the outside world, many people in the villages do not see the true potential and value in their environment, indigenous knowledge and culture.
Bui Thuy Vinh, owner of a small business, Rattan and Bamboo Company in the Phu Nghi Village, suggests there be more community involvement between citizens and tourism officials to promote tourism projects.
“Far too many of the local villagers are left in the dark on exactly what is going on with efforts to develop tourism locally,” he said.
But Mr Vinh said, other hindrances to the development of tourism include a lack of basic infrastructure including sanitation, drinking water and wayside amenities; a lack of accommodation and food facilities; and a lack of awareness about site importance and the need for local guides.
Rural tourism is not the end, but the means to stimulate economic growth, to increase the viability of underdeveloped locations, and to improve the living standards of local populations, reminded Vice Chairman Hoa of the Vietnam Craft Villages Association.
"With proper training and the proper infrastructure in place, rural tourism throughout Vietnam certainly has many brighter days ahead,” he said, along with the potential to generate large-scale good paying employment.
What we need is commitment and a long-term view, Mr Hoa concluded.