By Lê Hương & Minh Phương
Mộc Châu District in the north-western province of Sơn La has long been known as a favourable destination for tourists nationwide, with mild weather all year round, a pristine landscape and many distinct cultures of ethnic minorities.
Local ethnic women have been benefiting from community-based tourism models, including two in Tà Số Village in Chiềng Hắc Commune and Vặt Village in Mường Sang Commune.
The projects, which started in 2019, have been supported by the Gender Responsive Equitable Agriculture and Tourism (GREAT) Programme funded by the Australian Government.
Cao Đại Hùng, a Tourism Advisor with the GREAT Programme, said they helped ethnic women access capital through the local Bank for Social Policies to support upgrades to their homestay services, and set up service groups to share profits. The programme also hosts training classes on tourism skills and gender equality.
“I highly appreciate GREAT-supported projects in the district,” Đinh Thị Hường, head of the Culture and Information Department of Mộc Châu District told Việt Nam News. “They have helped local women gain enough knowledge and self-confidence to join the community-based tourism network and earn a stable income.”
As an ethnic woman, Hường said she understood the obstacles that local women faced.
“They had led to them being considered inferior to men at home. They had no voice in the village,” she said.
Thanks to training classes by GREAT, they have been equipped with skills such as receiving guests, running homestays, cooking, and making handicrafts to earn a stable income.
“I hope GREAT will carry out the second phase of the programme to help more local women play a role in raising their families' incomes,” she said.
At Tà Số Village, home to some 400 ethnic Mông families, there are now six homestays due to the project.
|A group of tourists at Tà Số Village. — VNS Photo Nguyễn Nam|
Sùng Y Hoa, owner of Homestay Hoa Phong, said her husband spent a year designing and building their house for a homestay service, at a total cost of VNĐ200,000 million (US$8,800), half of which they loaned from the bank.
“By attending GREAT’s classes I have gained skills in communication, running a homestay and cooking. I now have more to talk about with my husband other than simply discussing the family, crops and children,” she said.
|Sùng Y Hoa cleans her homestay. — VNS Photo Lý Phú|
“We feel delighted to receive guests here,” she added.
Hoa said that since the guesthouse is near her home, her family can care for the guests while keeping their privacy.
Since they opened the homestay in September 2021, they have received nine groups of tourists. Guests can join local farming activities, make traditional food, explore caves, trek in the jungle and enjoy folk art shows at night.
They have two rooms now but will soon build a collective house that can host up to 20 people at once.
“Tourism business brings us more earnings alongside a stable income from planting plums, peach and some galangal,” said her husband, Mùa A Hạng.
In a month, he said he could earn VNĐ10 million from two groups of tourists, five to ten times higher than a month working in agriculture.
Thanks to training classes on gender equality, the local women have also become more active in village affairs.
|Sùng Y Hoa and her husband now share lots of housework. — VNS Photo Viết Niệm|
“My wife has been more self-confident,” Hạng said. “She has more skills to support me in daily work. Both of us are proactive in expanding our relationship for our business.”
Hạng hopes the project will continue supporting more families to gain extra incomes to improve their lives, and he plans to install additional equipment and offer new services like foot massage with medicinal herbs.
According to Mùa A Lu, chief of Tà Số 2 Village, the locals did not know what community tourism was before the project started.
“We will encourage more families to join in the project,” he said. “Each home should host a homestay, maybe just a small one, to receive one to two couples. Every family should grow more vegetables and fruits to supply guests.”
Lu said he could not comment on the income of homestay owners as they had just started and the pandemic had spread.
“I just see that my village is more beautiful,” he said. “Many guests from different parts of the country have visited us.”
Lu said the project has also offered classes in the Vietnamese language at night. Many have also joined English classes.
“Women are now equal to men,” he said. “The wives now receive guests instead of just their husbands. They speak English better than the men.”
Lu and Hạng run Facebook pages to advertise their homestays and the village and to take bookings.
Homestay services have been offered in Vặt Village in Mường Sang Commune for several years, supported by GREAT and Action On Poverty in Việt Nam. The joint effort aims to support 320 households in Vân Hồ and Mộc Châu districts.
|Hà Thị Chiên takes care of her garden where visitors can experience farming. — VNS Photo Lê Hương|
There are 16 homestays in the village, gathering over 300 women in various tasks.
"Tourism has become the new main income source for many households," GREAT Tourism Adviser Hùng said. "In 2020 and 2021, the income from tourism of the village was over VNĐ3 billion despite the pandemic."
Hà Thị Chiên runs Homestay Hợp Chiên, a business that can host up to 20 people.
Before the project, Chiên and her husband earned their primary income from planting fruit trees like apricot, plum, mango, and longan, earning about VNĐ30-40 million per year.
“I can see my village has changed as it is more beautiful, bustling with visitors, and people are busy receiving guests,” she said. “Skills development classes have been useful to us, helping us be self-confident in receiving guests.”
However, Chiên said the pandemic had hindered tourism.
“I have focused on agriculture and plan to make some private guest rooms for couples,” she said.
|A visitor (right) buys a local handmade scarf. — VNS Photo Phạm Huy|
According to Lường Thị Hồng Tươi, head of the Homestay Group in the village, the pandemic has encouraged her and their neighbours to begin online marketing.
The number of tourists reduced by 80 per cent due to COVID-19, so they have focused on growing vegetables and raising poultry.
GREAT has opened a training class on online selling and marketing. The locals have turned to social networks to sell farm produce, which brought them a stable income during the social distancing period.
“Local women have gained the skills to take photos, post on social networks, propose prices, and search for potential customers,” she said.
Tươi said most of the customers for their farm produce were people who had visited the village frequently before the pandemic.
She said her income during the three-month social distancing period between April and June 2021 was VNĐ30 million a month.
“We are pushing the marketing for tourism services for when tourism resumes and selling agricultural produce online at the same time,” she said.
|A team of local dancers in Vặt Village entertain guests at night. — VNS Photo Viết Niệm|
Tươi’s husband, Hà Văn Thủy, said he was very proud of his wife.
“We have cooperated well in the daily routines. I don’t mind doing housework and taking care of our children when she’s busy. However, some men in the village do not think the same as me as their wives have become better in business!” he said.
The Mộc Châu District authorities aim to receive 800,000 visitors this year.
Hường said the locality planned to satisfy all criteria so that the district could receive the 'National Tourism Site' title by early 2025.
“We will also focus on smart tourism with a 3D map of the area with clear subtitles, which will be completed by March,” she said.
Hường said that existing four Thái and Mông villages were offering community-based tourism services, and the district would encourage the ethnic Dao and Mường in other villages to open homestays.
“We will also facilitate big companies and investors who are willing to have tourism projects in the district,” she said.
Hùng said GREAT also planned to multiply the community-based tourism model to other villages and support locals in developing other tourism products so that visitors could experience more in Mộc Châu.
The programme has cooperated with communications agencies to hold writing, photo and video contests on the beauty of Sơn La and Lào Cai, and local community-based tourism sites.
With the emergence of projects like GREAT, and enhanced awareness of gender equality issues, the future looks bright for the region’s ethnic women. VNS