Tourism will ensure stable incomes for residents in buffer zones around national parks and will ensure better protection of the parks and the wildlife they shelter. Pham Hoang Nam reports.Tham Thi Men was everywhere at the same time. The 48-year-old ethnic Tay woman was on stage singing a traditional song; she was being an attractive hostess inviting guests to enjoy Tay cakes that she and her neighbours had made, and she was in the kitchen preparing lunch for visitors at the communal Long House.
The Long House is located near the new ethnic Stieng resettlement area in Ta Lai Commune, Tan Phu District, in the southern province of Dong Nai.
The 125sq.m house was built in five months with bamboo, wood, rattan and other natural materials. It opened to visitors in the middle of February.
The house is the first community-based tourism guesthouse in the area. It was built under a project, funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), that promotes community-based ecotourism in Viet Nam’s national parks.
The project has been carried out by the WWF in collaboration with the Nam Cat Tien National Park since 2008.
It directly benefits the livelihoods of local communities while conserving nature, WWF Viet Nam director Tran Minh Hien said.
“Ecotourism planning in and around the park is carried out through a participatory multi-stakeholder process and is incorporated into development plans at commune, district and provincial levels,” she explained.
According to the chairman of Ta Lai Commune, Dang Vu Hiep, the house offers not only cultural meaning but also economic value to ethnic groups living in the region.
“Community-based tourism will create stable livelihoods for local people by helping reduce pressure on natural resources, raising people’s awareness of environmental protection and promoting cultural characters of ethnic communities,” he said.
The house is all set to receive visitors now. To introduce the Long House to travel agencies including adventure tour operators, project managers organised a trip few weeks ago to the national park.
Everything had been carefully prepared.
Special dishes typically eaten by local ethnic minorities of Stieng, Ma and Tay had been prepared. People in the communities had been employed as chefs, guides and hospitality service providers.
The community-based tourism model applied here had the participation of around 30 households.
“I have liked to sing and dance since I was a little girl. Now I can join the team to perform for visitors, that’s my dream. I can earn a living from what I like to do best,” 17-year-old K’Nhung said happily.
Would visitors come to stay in the Long House, the few people wondered.
“There are a few Vietnamese tourists who like adventure and eco-tourism. But the potential to attract foreign customers is very huge,” said Jean-Luc Voisin, director of the VietAdventure company.
The company is major partner with the park in the project.
“I believe the model will develop better in the near future. Tourists will enjoy a night in the forest, taste special food and traditional art performances by local residents,” he added.
From Ta Lai Commune, 12km from the head-office of Nam Cat Tien Park’s management board, tourists can trek or go cycling through the forest.
“If permitted, we would like to reopen the 60km cycling route through the park and Ta Lai will be our stopping place,” said Le Van Sinh, CEO of SinhBalo Adventure Travel company.
Project managers hope that around 4,500 visitors would visit Ta Lai each year.
They are also offering another buffer zone of the park, Dak Lua, as a tourism destination.
“We have already looked at Dak Lua, where has a very big rice field. We have chosen to develop the home-stay model there and three houses were selected. But Dak Lua is not as attractive as Ta Lai with its many traditional customs,” said Nguyen Thi Hai Ha, managing director of Innoviet company.
“We know it is very hard, but it’s a starting point to help villagers get involved in community tourism and improve their living standards while sharing the responsibility to protect the park,” said K’ Yeu, head of Ta Lai Village. — VNS
Welcome mat: Local residents greet guests at a Long House.
Forest tour: A local guide introduces a tree’s medical benefits. — VNS Photos Hoang Nam