Vietnam has about 3,000 craft villages of 53 traditional professions such as sculpture, mosaic, lacquer, rattan, ceramics, embroidery, textile etc. Hanoi claims the majority with more than 1,300 villages. These villages have a hundred-year history of crafting various unique products namely Van Phuc silk village (more than 1,200 years), Chuon Ngo pearl mosaic village (over 1,000 years), Bat Trang pottery village (formed over 600 years ago), etc. This is a rich resource to attract tourists. Unfortunately, these craft villages have yet joined hands with tour operators to create attractive tourism products.
According to Dr Ha Van Sieu, Director of the Institute for Tourism Research and Development, the advantage of craft village tourism programmes has not been fully exploited. So far, tourism activities in crafting villages are still limited and underdeveloped due to poor road infrastructure making it difficult to approach rural villages. Besides, some villages are starting to industrialise, causing disappearance of some professions. Another issue is that rural people right now cannot earn a living as artisan because the fierce competition in market makes it hard for traditional products to compete. Travel agents when building tours also are not given enough priority to craft villages. Finally, the state policy should be more supportive toward farmers and craft villagers, encouraging them to participate in tourism, to learn how to promote local tourism.
Holding the same opinion, Mr Vu The Binh, Standing Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association stressed that the underdevelopment of village tourism partly comes from the lack of common understanding between villages and travel agencies, that the connection between villages and tourism is still weak. Tourism businesses are keen to develop villages into an important travel product, an attractive destination for visitors but what has been done is still at an insignificant level. There are professions that are gradually disappearing in the process of social development, while villages are turning into cities. Even the management of villages is unclear, some under the Department of Trade and Industry, some manage with cooperation from other agencies. Compared with other regional countries such as Thailand or Malaysia, Vietnam is clearly lagging behind, therefore not being able to develop further.
Another problem causing the underdevelopment of Hanoi village tourism is the space for craft – the gradual disappearance of craft’s spirit. Regarding this issue, Mr Mai Tien Dung, Deputy Director of Hanoi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism said that the space of craft villages is a cultural space, a landscape space of traditional villages so cultural sites such as pagodas, temples, and natural landscape should all be exploited to the fullest. Exploration should not just aim at an area, gathering households in one place to focus on. This kind of method might be reasonable in terms of productivity and environmental management, but from the tourism perspective, it would go against the conservation and development of tourism resources. There’s no way a traditional village has concentrated areas, the characteristic of craft villages is that the crafting is interwoven and scattered all over village, so to create value for these villages, the only way is to exploit its cultural space in the most efficient way possible.
Despite being one of the few villages in Hanoi chosen by tour operators as destinations in the capital tour, according to Mr Dao Xuan Hung, Party Secretary and Chairman of Bat Trang People’s Committee, Gia Lam District, Hanoi said that Bat Trang ceramic village has yet to fully exploit its value due to the wrong direction in tourism activities.
According to Mr Hung, the potential underdevelopment in craft village tourism is a widely recognised problem; however, regarding the difficulty in selling products, mostly the problem lie in capability of businesses with small enterprises having difficulties in conducting market research, deciding characterised products to meet visitor’s interest, and especially connecting with travel agents. Because of this weak link, the “three players” model has not yet to be implemented properly (tourists visiting villages that can live, eat, work together with villagers). There are also many historical and cultural sites in Bat Trang that have not been exploited in tourism, tourists often left soon after making some purchases.
Every year, the Hanoi Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism organise training courses for Bat Trang people on product design, sales; however, these activities have not been of much help. Artisan Pham Quang Huy of Bat Trang pottery village said those courses did not have real value. Besides, artisans could not live on their profession and hadn’t properly honoured so it’s difficult for them to pass on their profession.
From the perspective of travel agents, Mr Luu Duc Ke, Director of Hanoitourist believed that in addition to the direct linkage between tourism businesses with villages, it’s also important to pay attention to creating added value for craft villages from their products.
According to Mr Ke, tourists coming to craft villages all want to see the creativity of artisans, how they turn clay into work of arts, that’s the attraction of craft village tourism, not the common display which can be seen everywhere. For example, when Hoi An introduced the collection of 600 year-old mulberry trees, tourists would undoubtedly take interest in the process of silkworms produce silk by eating mulberry leaves because of its’ uniqueness. It’s uniqueness that would help increase the value of craft villages.
For artisans, art works is their spiritual child born from devotion and affection, therefore art works are always unique, cannot be confused with products elsewhere. What visitors want to see are authentic art works made by artisans and skilled craftsmen. To develop advantages of traditional craft villages as well as its unique identity, it’s crucial for authorities of all levels to establish effective policies to support the development of village tourism to create products attractive to visitors.