Handicraft industry has a lot of potential in Vietnam. Currently there are approx. 1500 handicraft villages in Vietnam, where 10 million, a third of the total regional workforce, are employed, with an annual sales of 3 billion USD, exports of 0.3 billion USD expected to exceed 0.9 billion USD in 2005. The income of handicraft-associated laborers is said to be triple or quadruple of that of farmers . The handicraft industry has increased income in rural area and contributed significantly to poverty reduction. Thus the Vietnamese government is putting much effort in the promotion of handicraft villages where tourism and handicrafts are joined. They have just started the project on handicraft development combining tourism until the year of 2010 in the sustainable way of protecting and preserving the culture. The brochure, "Vietnam's Craft Villages", was one example of their efforts to advocate the project.
Recently tourists who visit Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi to purchase Vietnamese gift goods are increasing. Some guidebooks introduce several handicraft villages that can be visited on a day trip from major tourist towns, resulting in tourists who visit the actual production site and shop during their stay. In Vietnam, quite a few craft villages, which are a day-trip distance from big cities, such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, receive many tourists to see the production site, experience crafting and enjoy shopping in the area. Each provincial government has already developed its own brochure to attract both foreign and domestic tourists and even websites to promote their province's charm and history.
As regards the business component at the village level, they have developed their own marketing route abroad and started exporting the products all by themselves. Those export companies work with villagers by sub-contracting with them to make the products, and then utilize a larger scale system to finish and package the final products for export. They have significantly contributed to the village economy. Some skilled workers in the village have also developed their own route to export abroad through connections with their previous foreign customers. The interview revealed that the connection has been developed by making quality products and the customers directly getting in touch with the producers from their side.
While the potential is high as indicated above, Vietnamese handicraft villages also face many problems. For example, inadequate exploitation of their tourism resources, lack of management ability, inadequate management organization, lack of funds and equipment, lack of market data gathering ability or marketing skills, insufficient basic infrastructure in the village, and lack of technology. Due to their lack of marketing skills, most of the villagers depend on the middlemen for their sales, and therefore receive less profit for their products
Though there are some "successful" craft villages which are closely linked to the tourism industry in Vietnam, those villages are also observed to be losing their traditional culture and values, including the rural and quiet atmosphere, raw materials grown in the village, and traditionally inherited skills. Even in the case of a skilled craftsman, the quality may be random, and simple copying of foreign products and popular products is still prevalent
Concerning the tourism industry in Vietnam, the tours to the bigger cities are well developed, but smaller villages including craft villages in rural areas are still in the process of getting attention from tour operators and customers to become the new potential tourist destinations, though the development process is much more rapid than in other countries. The country needs to make the balanced linkage between villages, government including both local and central authority, tour companies, universities and other stakeholders to strengthen this new type of tourism.
The same problem is seen not only in Vietnam, but also in Thailand where OTOP is widely in motion, and in other countries along the Corridor .
As revealed above, the existing development strategy resulted in deteriorating local culture to some extent. Referring to the previous experience, this feasibility study will try to make good suggestions on sustainable handicraft and tourism development, in terms of fostering the traditional culture and values and providing human resource development. The following is the suggested vision of handicraft and tourism development throughout this feasibility study mission.
The abundant handicraft culture in Vietnam was nurtured in the Agrarian environment of Vietnam and is strongly connected with the surrounding environment. The handicraft culture, which has been fostered in every part of Vietnam, is a collection of popular knowledge making use of all the natural resources indigenous to the local community. It is, therefore, natural that the handicraft culture should be connected with different dimensions of human life and community culture as well as with the products' external factors such as shape and color. The community is historically developed of its own accord, as being intricately entwined with different components of community resources, namely natural resources, human resources, cultural resources and scenic resources. No two communities are the same and it is difficult to develop the handicraft and community only by using the tools brought in from outside areas. When designing the community development, especially together with handicraft development, it is imperative to analyze the local skills and natural resources that the target community possesses. The appropriate goals and recommendations for each community will be uncovered from the analysis on the community background and present situation. By going through these processes, tourism as the popular communication between inside and outside of the community will finally be meaningful.
Referring to the discussed concept of tourism, it becomes apparent who should take charge of tourism development in the popular community. It should be the community itself who takes charge of developing tourism in their local region. The community also needs to review their past to know their roots and then examine the present strengths and weaknesses of the community. It could be one of the effective ways to build up their strengths.