2014 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: Beloit College
Community Tourism and Sustainable Development in Mai Chau, Vietnam
Mentor: Diep Phan, Economics
Students: Margaret Cress ’15, Jon Hammon ’15, Hilary Walker, ’15, Wenxin Xu ’15
The Beloit research group spent five weeks in Vietnam, mostly in Mai Chau, studying community-based tourism (CBT) and sustainable development. Mai Chau is a rural village in Hoa Binh Province, about 135 km southwest of Hanoi. In the early 1990’s, as Vietnam started to transition to a more open economy, Mai Chau adopted a model for CBT which invites tourists to visit their village, experience traditional culture, and provides them with food and overnight accommodations (home-stays). Our research aimed to identify the conditions or factors leading to success, especially institutional factors, in order to apply lessons from Mai Chau to other places. Each student addressed a different issue in his/her research, such as the role of social network and the sustainability of Mai Chau’s CBT. We conducted many conversations and interviews with local residents and key individuals (village heads, experienced farmers, the elderly, local businessmen, etc.) Our partner institution, the Vietnam National University of Agriculture, and the two Vietnamese student translators worked very hard and provided great help to us. We were able to collect a combination of qualitative and quantitative data. These data are currently being analyzed through economic modeling to test the hypotheses developed and refined during the research.
In our research, we have analyzed the impacts of community-based tourism on the economy of two villages in Mai Chau, in particular poverty and inequality. Through the interviews, I have come to the tentative finding that community based tourism heightens inequality while marginally reducing poverty. This finding still needs to be substantiated by further data analysis. Currently, I am in the process of co-writing a paper with Nguyen Quynh Mai. Remaining tasks in our project include finishing the transcription, compiling a literature review, and doing further analysis on our data. This is a project that will continue throughout the semester.
Studying community-based tourism in Vietnam has allowed me to apply and improve upon research skills that I developed during my first three years at Beloit College. Both in the challenges and successes of the project, I have learned about the daily aspects of research. Furthermore, this project has been an opportunity for me to generate and test my own hypotheses with data that I collected myself. Through this project, I have learned skills that will transfer to my future research, but I have also learned a great deal about Vietnam and community-based tourism that will continue to shape my academic pursuits.
The hypothesis of my research is that there is a relationship network between the households of Mai Chau, which determines whether or not a family can successfully enter and survive in the homestay business. After gathering the data from almost forty household interviews, I have come to the conclusion that this hypothesis is correct. Though I have yet to fully analyze the data, it is clear that there are four mechanisms through which the relationship networks in Mai Chau influence the success of a homestay business: by helping to establish tourism contracts, by sharing guests, by providing initial investment resources, and by providing work experience in the homestay business. I will be using the economic literature on social capital as the framework for my analysis, as well as family stories as my qualitative evidence.
After spending five weeks in Vietnam I am still interested in pursuing a career in economic development research. Though I do not know for certain that this is the path I will end up following, I now understand what it would entail and the sort of work that I would be doing. I also discovered how much I enjoy the interview process; if I do end up pursuing a career in economic development research I know that it would have to be qualitative in some regard, for the stories behind the data are what I find to be the most enriching. Finally, I developed many skills that I will be able to use in whatever career I decide to follow, including how to take my knowledge from the classroom and apply it to the real world. In addition I learned a lot about data collection techniques, working in a foreign environment, and how to take on an ambitious project without getting lost in the immensity of the work.
After 35 days of the data collection in Vietnam, my research question of the impact of CBT on access to education was well answered. My preliminary conclusion is that the impact of tourism on access to post-secondary education is positive. On the one hand, the awareness of the importance of education is increased; on the other hand, the ability to afford schooling increases as well. We have finished data collection, and now I am transcribing interviews with other students. I plan to finish a literature review related to my research question in this semester, and final paper will be finished in the next semester.
I really appreciate that I was able to have the chance to do this economic research in Mai Chau, Vietnam, and the research experience benefited me a lot. First of all, it gave me a deeper understanding of economic research. It enabled me to apply things we learned in class to real life situations. The intense research schedule trained me to multi-task and to work in a highly energetic and fast paced environment. Secondly, the experience motivated my interests in economics, and made me think about going to graduate school for economics after I finish my undergraduate studies. Finally, it improved my teamwork ability, which is also very important for my future study and work.
Currently the Mai Chau community is facing environmental issues; however, at this time the stress tourism puts on the water, sewage, and trash system is too minimal to warrant a full research question centered on this idea. What Mai Chau does have is a current struggle against the outside investment. Some companies have come into the tourist villages in Mai Chau, bought a plot of land, and then built a nontraditional structure on the land that is conflicting with the surrounding aesthetics. Outside investors want to buy land in Mai Chau because there is a market for profit, but some of the villages do not want foreign investors coming in and destroying their already disappearing culture. Outside influence on the villages needs to be carefully checked or it is only a matter of time before Mai Chau is no longer able to call itself a cultural tourism location because it has been transformed into mass tourism. Right now, in Mai Chau you are able to see nontraditional houses being constructed because the village in question has no policy in place concerning outside investment. If the tourism in Mai Chau is to continue to advance towards mass tourism, or if the tourism rates in Mai Chau continue to grow, then the environmental issues that were spoken of earlier will begin to play a role in the dynamics of the industry. Gone unchecked outside investment could cause the tourism industry to be unsustainable for the community, which has the potential to lead to social, environmental, and economic consequences in the future.
The research that I had the opportunity to perform in Mai Chau allowed me to be removed from the numbers that Economists often get wrapped up in. I was able to gather the data myself and interact with people, allowing me to see how the data is collected. As an Economics major this was my first time out in the field doing work that was very close to ethnography, hands on data gathering. Throughout this process I realized how much of a passion I had for interacting with local communities– experiencing the culture shock, but slowly working my way towards acceptance in the community through the work that I was doing. This project has shown me how much I enjoy working on an assignment that has the ability to help not only the community of relevance, but similar communities around the world. I have plans to continue research regarding the sustainability of tourism and then hopefully one day have a job that is involved with international consulting–a career that would allow me to interact with local communities from around the world and attempt to see how their lives could be improved.