|Taste of success: Hue's French Bakery apprentices find jobs at high-class hotels in Viet Nam. — Photos Julio Benedetti
Julio Benedetti *
It's not a surprising fact to hear that Viet Nam has become one of the main booming destinations in Asia. The number of international arrivals in 2012 grew by 13.86 per cent over 2011, and for the first eight months of 2013 it already represents a 7.9 per cent growth over the same period last year – according to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.
But this is not the only good news for Viet Nam tourism: omitted from these statistics, there is a bright future being built by expats and Vietnamese initiatives all over the country that are directly or indirectly related to the tourism industry – an activity that, as most experts would agree, can have a powerful role in increasing the life standards of residents of any destination.
Ha Noi-based Bloom Microventures is a good example: founded by a group of foreigners and currently managed by a Vietnamese team, this non-profit social business combines micro-financing and responsible tourism with poverty-fighting day tours, through which tourists have the chance to meet local small-scale women farmers and experience their daily way of life in their own environment, while at the same time contributing loan capital to these agro-entrepreneurs to help them escape poverty.
By converting the tour fees paid by tourists into micro-loans for these local entrepreneurs, Bloom Microventures provides a way for tourists to get personally involved and help marginalised people who, even in regions with high levels of tourism development, would not benefit from tourism otherwise. It's a win-win situation for both sides.
|Dressed to impress: Rachael Carson wears a jacket from Fashion4Freedom's Heritage Weave Collection.
But tourism is a broad activity that also depends upon and influences different individuals and types of businesses, such as local transportation, small shops, markets, local producers, manufacturers - and even fashion.
Fashion4Freedom (F4F), a socially-minded design house focused on revitalising heritage art in Viet Nam, works with a network of over 40 villages and small businesses in central Viet Nam that include skilled artisans, responsibly sourced materials, socially conscious labour practices and the support of semi-government owned factories.
As HCM City-based Rachael Carson explains, F4F is making a difference by elevating and preserving heritage craftsmanship through high-end products that are intended to appeal to tourists while at the same time honouring the history and artistry of local producers, focusing especially on villages whose cultural traditions and livelihoods are near extinction – helping them to reach international standard and international buyers.
Good examples come also from central Viet Nam: The French Bakery (Banh Mi Phap) has been selling bakery products not only for locals but also for tourists interested in adding a French taste to their trip.
But behind the façade of the shop itself is a larger Franco-Vietnamese project involving a school where Vietnamese apprentices, after 19 months of training and real life practice through internships, are given the opportunity to start a new life. Since 1999, The Bakery has trained almost 70 apprentices, who are now mostly working in high standard hotels throughout Viet Nam.
Whoever has visited Viet Nam will agree that the country - perhaps even more than others in the region - is in the process of balancing tradition and modernity in an ever-more globalised world; a world in which tourism is in the middle of it all, because its complex management can influence the life of its residents in a positive or negative way.
But with the examples above, one can clearly see that it's perfectly possible to find modern solutions for old problems, preserving the local culture and bringing traditions back to life - and doing so while keeping tourists and locals satisfied.
Now it's up to Viet Nam to come up with more initiatives. After all, isn't it the perfect combination for such a thriving destination?
* Julio Benedetti is a tourism consultant and blogger from Brazil.