Thursday, 25 November 2010

Pu Luong Ecotourism Project

Rice paddy terracing is common in Pu Luong
Pu Luong Nature Reserve is a gorgeous limestone karst landscape just three hours by car from Hanoi, home to Thai and Muong ethnic minorities, as well as a well preserved, but exploited forest system, home to the critically endangered Delacor's Langur.

It's a lush landscape

As with many similar landscapes and communities, there are considerable threats from land encroachment, population growth and development that forces the local community to exert increasing pressure on the natural resources that they rely on for their livelihoods.  Forests are becoming degraded thus threatening local livelihood security as well as biodiversity.  Additionally, large scale tourism development has been mooted by the Provincial People's Committee and associated departments, development that would significantly alter the character of the landscape, damage natural resources, place increasing pressure on biodiversity, whilst at the same time further marginalizing the local population.

Community members in consultation workshop
Up to 4,000 international tourists visit the site annually, mostly on pre-booked trekking packages with adventure travel companies, who subcontract to in-bound operators, who in-turn subcontract to a local operator.  Some local homestays have been created by a previous NGO project, but problems exist with theequitable distribution of profits from the tourism product, to an extent where tourism provides only negligible financial gains to the community.  Thankfully, a forward thinking project funded by Irish Aid allows for a comprehensive and well planned ecotourism (or perhaps "cultural tourism") project to be developed in the Nature Reserve.

My role was to lead and capacity build a national team from Fauna and Flora International through the ecotourism process to develop an equitable and pro-poor ecotourism plan to guide the two year project.  This was completed in five main stages:

1. Meeting with provincial, district and commune decision makers

Water wheels for irrigation and power generation
We held formal meetings with key provincial departments in Thanh Hoa City, to introduce our project objectives and needs.  This was followed up with meetings at District and Commune level, to ensure all were clear about the project and it's purpose.

2. Conducting an extensive tourism resource survey in the nature reserve

The team travelled extensively throughout the nature reserve, meeting local communities, observing key social, cultural and natural features, and other tourism related resources and issues.

3. Holding in-depth community consultations

Rice paddy on the valley floor
The project was centred around the needs and wishes of the 3,000 people that live in the reserve, and these communities are the key draw factor for tourists.  We held workshops in each village to allow communities to make informed decisions about the type of tourism development they would like to see in their landscape.  This valuable information showed communities did not wish to see large scale investment or landscape change affect them -this would be the key information used to develop the plan, and provide a strong argument against heavy development from provincial agencies.

4. Developing an equitable ecotourism plan for Pu Luong

The plan identified 18 key action points to achieve comprehensive sustainable and equitable ecotourism in the nature reserve.  Of these, the following were identified as priorities:

Ladies carrying fuel wood
  • Develop and implement tourism zoning and management (using Recreation Opportunity Spectrum methodology)
  • Implement guidelines, codes of practice and regulations to ensure low-impact and equitable tourism
  • Establish and support a community tourism association
  • Develop local Value Chain to add-value to tourism
  • Work with in-bound and local tourism operators to ensure they allow more financial benefits to reach local communities
  • Implement entry fee system to fund conservation activities
  • Develop small scale handicraft programme, utilizing existing skills and products
  • Implement tourism awareness training to key stakeholders

5. Developing, discussing and agreeing next steps in a multi-stakeholder workshop

The team ran a final consultative workshop with key stakeholders including nature reserve managers, tour operators, provincial decision makers and local communities.  Here, wishes of the local communities were presented along with the above action points.  Discussions were held, and pledges made for support, and importantly, approval was publicly agreed to support the plan.

Village consultation workshop
A year later and the project is going strong, with key milestones having been met, with a local community tourism association set up, various trainings completed and improvements in the value chain from support of tour operators.

Key challenges as always remain the large number of provincial agencies that are responsible for management of different aspects of the nature reserve, big business pressurizing inappropriate development for the site, and local capacity to ensure project momentum is maintained.

Click here for pictures.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mike, thanks for this interesting post and valuable information. I am trying in vain to look for the evaluation report of this project, so I'd be grateful if you could help. I'm doing my PhD at Canterbury in NZ. My personal email address is Thanks a lot in advance.