A promising direction
Several years ago, Facebook blew up with an image of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan riding a water buffalo in a village in Sapa of the northern province of Lao Cai.
Riding on the back of a buffalo, swaying in a wagon on the village roads between rice fields, or trying their hands at plowing became the new sensation among tourists in famous countryside destinations.
When driving along the Red River from Hanoi to Bac Ninh province, one can meet groups of foreign tourist happily cycling around small villages and learning about local farming methods.
In Danang, the agri-tourism model has been developed in Hoa Bac commune, Hoa Vang district with various activities, such as village and culinary tours, river treks, and especially tours about organic agricultural production.
Quang Nam, one of the first localities to successfully implement the eco-tourism model, welcomed nearly six million visitors in 2017, showing an increase of 85.1% on-year and bringing in total revenue of VND9.2 trillion (US$403.7 million).
Visiting Tra Que herbal village, groups of foreigners wearing the traditional brown costumes of local farmers are a common sight, wearing slippers and conical hats in the field to learn how to grow, water, and harvest herbs and vegetables, or ride buffalos around the village.
In order to meet the needs of visitors, a wide range of agri-tourism products have been designed and there are many destinations attracting visitors, such as Bac Son (Lang Son province) and Mu Cang Chai (Yen Bai province). During the harvesting season, they explore Moc Chau’s tea plantations (Son La province), as well as fruit gardens in the Mekong Delta provinces.
In southern Vietnam, the statistics of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Tourism show that the number of international tourists visiting farms and fruit gardens at its agricultural outskirts and the Mekong Delta region are increasing by 20-30% every year.
In particular, the number of visitors to the high-tech agricultural area of Cu Chi district in the past three years has doubled, from 7,000 in 2014 to nearly 15,000 last year. The Mekong Delta provinces are filled with tourists all year round, rowing along its zigzagging canal system, harvesting fruit in gardens, or cropping in the paddy fields.
According to Nguyen Quy Phuong, director of the Travel Department under the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), ecotourism is one of the five key products in the country’s strategic development orientation for tourism.
In the capital of Hanoi, the model of agricultural production tied up with community-based tourism has been introduced in the suburban districts of Ba Vi, Dong Anh or Thuong Tin, and has been reported to bring benefits to local farmers. In 2017, Ba Vi district welcomed nearly 2.7 million visitors, earning a total revenue of VND276 billion (US$12 million) from tourism.
Nguyen Anh Dung, deputy director of the Hanoi Department of Tourism, said, “Hanoi has great potential to develop agri-tourism and there are a number of farming models, but organisation has been largely sporadic and failed to create unique and attractive products. In the future, we will work businesses and locals to create better, more professional products.”
Bui Bich Lien, CEO of the Orfarm organic food chain, said that based on the needs of guests who had attended farm trips, her company plans to develop more organic farming tours in early 2019 at Thuy Thien Nhu farm in Lac Thuy district, Hoa Binh province.
“At first we had no intention of developing tourism, but we received so many visitors to the farm, especially foreigners, who told us that the cleanliness and fresh environment helped them relax a lot. They wanted to experience more, so we decided to develop in this direction. I think this is a good partnership with local farmers that we can replicate in other places, not only Hanoi,” Lien said.
With 130 out of 200 farming households offering tourism services Trang Thanh Hung, head manager of Tra Que vegetable village, commented that thanks to the combination of agri-tourism and vegetable production, local farmers could raise their incomes and significantly improve their living conditions.