A new study has shown that Vietnam’s tourist industry is failing to exploit the potential of the nation’s craft villages
Vietnam has a rich heritage of traditional arts and crafts. Craft villages have been found in Vietnam for centuries, as a means of supplementing income from farming. But while a survey of nine such villages by the Japanese organization Asia Seed found that Viet Nam has a great deal of varied traditional craft areas compared with other regional countries, the study pointed out that this heritage is at odds with the domestic tourism industry’s failure to organise effective tourism development in these areas.
Vietnam has around 1500 traditional craft villages, mostly in the northern plain, generating jobs for around ten million people. Handicrafts produced include wickerwork, lacquer ware, bamboo and rattan goods, porcelain, embroidery, folk paintings and weaving, and export revenue from the villages reaches over half a billion US dollars a year.
Although provincial and national authorities have plans to develop some of these craft villages for tourism, Asia Seed reports that these plans have generally not got past the proposal stage. Some areas, such as Bat Trang ceramic village, Van Phuc silk village, and Dong Ho folk painting village, have attracted a high number of visitors, but this has occurred with little encouragement from organised tourism.
Further, the lack of a co-ordinated heritage protection strategy means that some of the more successful villages have allowed their traditional creative techniques to die out in an effort to produce more goods and capitalise on tourist interest. Meanwhile, the less-successful villages have been forced to pursue new production methods and churn out imitations of foreign products as their traditional work cannot provide enough capital.
Development strategy needed
Asia Seed’s researchers said that, although the tourism sector has already organised some initiatives involving traditional craft villages, this type of tourism still requires further investment and work for its potential to be realised.
Associate professor of Japan’s Chiba University Akira Ueda suggested the Vietnamese Government issue preferential policies for traditional craft villages, increase investment in building new facilities, and improve relevant human resources training.
He said tourist companies and the villages should focus on “homestay” tourism, which helps travellers spend more time in Viet Nam’s traditional craft areas to learn more about cultural identity and discover the daily life of village artisans.
Vietnam receives 10 million foreign tourists in 20017. Tourism planners say traditional craft villages must be developed into tourism sites that attract a lot of visitors, especially foreign tourists. Professor Michael Porter of America’s Harvard University says traditional craft villages need to increase co-operation with different universities and colleges to receive technical support, market research data and training assistance.
These villages should work together to raise their competitiveness in the international market and create a chain of traditional craft villages for the future, he adds. The locational dynamics of tourism-related craft production and marketing were analysed in case studies from Thailand by Cohen, who conceptualized two types of “craft-ribbons” that can promote crafts both through direct sales to tourists, and to intermediaries and exporters to foreign markets.
Evans suggested that craft demand and development offers a major opportunity for indigenous communities as a value-added element of tourism. In Vietnam, where there is a long tradition of craft villages and a contemporary boom in tourism, the opportunities to use this aspect of Vietnam’s heritage for tourism are clear, but investment and support may be needed if the villages are to be able to exploit this potential.