The Wonderful Complexity of Researching Tourism Governance in Hoa Binh

By Amanda Chi, Louna Dayekh, Hanne Dernau, Chloé Ledune, Muthia Evirayani
ICP Sustainable Development Program

Our journey as a governance and tourism group in the living lab was an enlightening experience that allowed us to immerse ourselves in the realities of the communities involved in tourism within Vietnam’s Hoa Binh province.

Prior to our fieldwork in Hoa Binh, our group pondered and debated, in search of the most suitable conceptual framework and tools to explore this topic. Our ambition was to uncover the underlying dynamics that govern community-based tourism and understand its implications on local communities. As we ventured into fieldwork, we found that our theoretical framework was indeed a fitting lens through which to view the multifaceted interactions of various stakeholders shaping the tourism landscape. Nevertheless, the journey also presented us with new challenges. These challenges, while complex and intriguing, added a layer of depth and substance to our research, pushing us to adapt, learn, and grow.

The two qualitative research tools used: focus groups (left) and interviews (right) © SUSDEV.

The two qualitative research tools used: focus groups (left) and interviews (right) © SUSDEV.

Conducting fieldwork in a foreign place is often an emotional and challenging experience, as none of our group members have visited Vietnam before. In particular, our research offered an exploration of both the place and its people, while attempting to understand and adapt to an entirely different culture. Taking part in ecology-based groups for several days offered us the opportunity to explore the beauty of hidden living organisms in nature, even though our encounter with mosquitoes might not have been a highlight.

However, our qualitative research as a governance group was riddled with unpredictable challenges. Indeed, conducting interviews and focus groups in a different language is certainly not an easy task, and we faced this in our very first fieldwork day. In the face of this, we began to understand the essence of fieldwork – adaptability. Day by day, we began to reshape and refine our tools. One of our planned exercises, involving participatory mapping to identify key tourism features and stakeholders, went through an entire transformation from a geographical map to an actors map we had created by hand. The new exercise sparked more interest in our focus groups, compelling participants to contribute, and in turn enriching our understanding of the dynamic within the community.

Towards the end, we understood the importance of a context-sensitive approach to fieldwork in Vietnam which had contributed immensely to building our adaptibility and patience.

Change of tools used during focus groups: from a participatory map (left) to a map of actors (right) © SUSDEV

Change of tools used during focus groups: from a participatory map (left) to a map of actors (right) © SUSDEV

The energy we poured into our brainstorming and discussion sessions to adapt our research proved to be rewarding. Through this process, we came to appreciate that the transition of qualitative research from theory to practice is not always seamless. However, we also discovered this is not a barrier, but an opportunity to come together as a team and think collectively of solutions.

Overall, our journey allowed us to gain important insights into the governance system of tourism in different villages and districts in the Hoa Binh province. We learned about complex governance structures, each with a multitude of actors and relationships, all of which exhibited similarities and differences from one village to another. This complexity emphasizes that Community-based Tourism (CBT) is far from a static concept, but one that is influenced by many factors, notably the historical context. The concept must also be positioned in a broader sustainability framework, as we found intersections with other living lab groups working on mapping land-use change, tourism infrastructure, gender, etc.

As we conclude this remarkable journey in the living lab, we express gratitude and thanks to each other for the collaborative spirit, our colleagues in the program, our supervisors for their guidance, the VNU students and professors for their warm welcome and knowledge, and most importantly, to the local community for allowing us to experience their culture in unique ways. Every individual has played a role in shaping our experience and growth, from sharing discussions to sharing food and drinks. This journey has been truly special, as we move forward, we carry this gratitude with us, ready to share this knowledge and memories to make a sustainable difference!