1. What inspired you to create your business?
In 1999, the dream began, when Mr. Thanh and me, Son Dang, from Hanoi Open University (Faculty of Tourism), met and began to establish a travel company that would show Vietnam to the World.
With passion, we worked with other companies as guides and tour operator, paying off student loans and saving money to start our own – Footprint Travel in 2001. Our experience in the field allowed us to travel extensively to isolated destinations in Vietnam, and learn the roles tourism played there. We have learned that to truly increase the value in travel, we first have to ensure that our trips are valuable to our guests where the depth of tradition and breathtaking landscapes completely inspires them. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, we strive to travel in a way that respects culture, protects our environment and supports the communities we visit. Finally, we also strongly believe that what we do must bring excellent value to our international partners, and of course our Footprint Team.
We have been doing this for a long time now, and continually strive, year by year, to do better. To bring increased value to the locals and destinations we visit we have taken the lead, founded, and partnered with national and international NGOs. We have facilitated training and capacity building projects. And, we have tried to create tours that involve the locals through cultural exchanges, as well as protect and conserve the local heritage and natural environment.
2. How does being responsible help your business attract potential customers?
Our guests are becoming more aware of responsible travel; however, accessibility of the information on sustainable travel in Vietnam is one of the problems. Hence, we promote sustainable practices throughout the product’s life cycle and creating trust and confidence among our guests.
After one year of hard-working, detailed and focussed work, we have successfully achieved the Travelife certificate. Since 2007, Travelife works to create a more sustainable environment in the tourism industry by setting sustainable benchmarks for its members. Not only did we manage to apply Travelifes’ detailed rules in a country that still needs improvement in sustainability, but we are also the first Vietnamese-owned tour operator achieving a sustainability certificate. Our guests are now confident that they are choosing the right tour operator for their holiday in Vietnam.
3. How do you engage guests in your responsible tourism activities?
We work to create good relationships between tourists and the local community while engaging them in our responsible tourism activities. We both provide travelers and the locals a code of ethics in which they can develop an understanding of the differences between right or wrong regarding environment, social, and economical aspects.
Also, we often suggest our guests to choose homestay instead of hotel. It not only helps travelers learn about the culture and tradition of the local community but also encourage the local to recover their customs, for instance traditional costumes and performances. Not to mention, the revenue will go directly to the hosted family making a sustainable income for their family.
We have had opportunity to launch many programme in the remote areas in Northern Vietnam due to the lack of the development in infrastructure. Our guests and guide will together join with the locals to build schools and roads, teach English and so on. These projects have contributed a lot to the community where we travel to.
4. What is the responsible tourism initiative of which you are most proud?
The responsible tourism initiative of which we are most proud is one of our projects in Lao Chai Village. The PATA Foundation and Capilano University have partnered in an effort to deliver tourism training to Lao Chai village in the Sapa region of Northern Vietnam. The project has aimed to enhance training in the Hmong community of Lao Chai. Footprint feels it’s a part of our responsibility to support the development of the minority groups in general and the Hmong in particular. Our objectives of the project are: building capacity, buying locals and conservation
With our persistent efforts, the project has continuously gained such below great results:
All the households in Lao Chai Village were equipped with knowledge and experience to do homestay, cooking, tour guiding and so on.
Optimize the use of local products including guides, meals, and handicrafts and so on. The total revenue of CBT tour which goes directly to the community increased from 17% to 25% from 2013 to 2015. It is estimated that it will be grow to 30% in the next 2 years.
Work with village youth, women and community leaders to find proactive solutions to mitigate the impacts that tourism can bring.
The launch of our new tour product – The Hmong’s Panorama not only helps our clients learn about the Hmong culture and their life but also encourage the Hmong to recover their traditions and customs, for instance, traditional costumes and performances.
5. What positive impacts does your tourism business have on the community/environment where you are based?
In terms of social aspect, we contribute economically to the community by training and employment of local residents. We make sure that the salaries are fairly and competitively distributed to our staff, guides and drivers with added bonuses. The use of locally-owned services is also beneficial to the community regarding economic and culture conservation. Instead of taking our guests to destinations that are affected by mass scale tourism, we take them to lesser-known places and promote cross cultural experiences and understanding.
Secondly, at Footprint, 5Rs that we are encouraged to do save our mother planet are: Reuse, Recycle, Reduce, Renew and Respect. Cycle is one of our core products in the recent years and more to come. And everyone knows many great benefits of cycling so together with our responsible travel initiatives, in 2011, we decided to launch an annual Recycle event where the team, partners, friends can cycle, recycle at the highest possibility to help save our environment and to support the poor communities.
6. What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?
The biggest challenge we have faced is to maintain our commitment regarding sustainability to our guests, the community, partners and staff. Being the first Vietnamese-owned tour operator achieving a sustainability certificate, we understand that it is really hard to manage to apply sustainable detailed rules in a country that still needs improvement in sustainability. In Vietnam, the concept has not widely promoted so it’s difficult and time consuming to convince people to change their traditional ways of operating/acting. On the other hand, it demands a great deal of discipline and perseverance to show that responsible tourism benefits everyone involved.
7. hat advice would you give to any entrepreneur starting a responsible tourism business?
One must have a desire to pursue responsible tourism business. As I mentioned before, it is really important to constantly monitor the processes such as checking on our suppliers, guides, green office system as it takes time to raise the awareness and change the way they act. Don’t hesitate to create an incentive for them to go green. A single person or company cannot prevent the global warming but if we work all together, we certainly can. It can cause a chain reaction and all together, we can make the world a better place.