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Travel With Purpose: Impact of Tourism in Sapa

Travel With Purpose: Impact of Tourism in Sapa

Earlier this year, I spent some time volunteering in Sapa, Northern Vietnam, with an organization called Sapa O’Chau.  Sapa is firmly on the tourist trail, thanks to hikers wanting to explore the many surrounding villages and markets that are home to ethnic minorities such as the Black Hmong, Flower Hmong and Red Dao.  Tourism has a major impact on these communities, many of whom are shunned by local Vietnamese people, thus being labelled ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘backward’.

Apart from the obvious impact of higher seasonal sales for vendors and businesses selling local crafts, souvenirs, jewelry, textiles, factory made clothes, shoes, trekking gear and brisk business for restaurants, cafes and accommodation providers, there are other ways how tourism has affected the socio-economic environment. There are a sizeable number of jobs created by tourism fuelled businesses, employing youth from the minorities giving them a chance to learn new skills.

Families are grateful for the additional income from the success of homestay programs organized by companies such as the one I volunteered with. Many women from the local Black Hmong community are able to earn a sizeable income by working as trekking guides and selling handicrafts and other wares to tourists. Increased interaction with tourists and foreigners has resulted in them learning how to speak fairly well in English. Sometimes they would ask if I could teach them more words, showing their eagerness to learn as much as possible.

Impact of Tourism in Sapa

A Black Hmong woman working as a trekking guide

While teaching young adults from the same community, I realized that interaction with foreign volunteers and tourists has sparked their curiosity about different countries & cultures.  They speak, read and write in English quite well, thanks to the efforts of volunteers who work with Sapa O’Chau. The organization also runs a café and trekking company, the profits are used to maintain the school and hostel where the students live for five days a week. The story of how this organization was set up by a local Black Hmong who was the first woman from the community to work as a trekking guide is an inspiring one. If it weren’t for the influx of tourism in Sapa, then the community would not get access to many opportunities as it does today.

Impact of Tourism in Sapa

There is an undeniable positive impact on social empowerment, self-confidence and aspirations.  My students, girls aged 14-21 years admitted that they want to travel, study and work abroad rather than sell to tourists on the streets like their parents. Some want to start small businesses, work in managerial roles, or as teachers in the cities. These aspirations would be unthinkable if tourism had not brought with it the idea that there was life outside Sapa.

Impact of Tourism in Sapa

My lovely class

While the debate of heavy dependence on tourism crippling economies is a never ending one, we must acknowledge the positive impact on communities. With many examples of grassroots organizations doing extraordinary work, it is undeniable that tourism has the potential to reduce wide socio-economic disparities. The question that arises and begets effective action is if governments will realize the importance of making it easier for grassroots organizations to function effectively and work towards removing bureaucratic road blocks.

For more about Sapa and Vietnam in general, visit my Vietnam travel blog.

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Impact of tourism in Sapa

Due Hien

Thursday 5th of September 2019

I like it when tourism brings positive impact to the locals especially from Sapa, Vietnam. As said, it breeds social empowerment, self aspirations and confidence to the locals. I'm happy I read this today.Thanks.

Kirk Beiser

Tuesday 15th of December 2015

I didn't expect the article to go in this direction. Sapa has been on my to do list for awhile. It looks like a really cool place.

Natasha Amar

Tuesday 15th of December 2015

It is, I hope you can visit soon :)

Trekking to Lao Chai from Sapa | The Boho Chica

Wednesday 8th of July 2015

[…] For ideas on what to do in Sapa, read about Cat Cat Village and the Bac Ha Tribal market. Here’s a post that deeply examines the effects of tourism in Sapa. […]

Hmong Sellers in Sapa: Do they Really Harass? | The Boho Chica

Tuesday 9th of June 2015

[…] to learn. On the other hand, there were all these opinions on the internet about how one of the impacts of tourism was a sense of unfriendliness and hostility towards foreigners. I decided that I was going to make […]

param

Thursday 15th of January 2015

So nice to see this happen. More often than not, at least here in India, I have seen rich city people running 'resorts' or buying villas converted into 'home stays', thereby keeping the economy away from the locals.

thebohochica

Thursday 15th of January 2015

That is unfortunate. Defeats the whole purpose of why a lot of travelers like to stay in homestays- to help the local community.