Shu Tan, founder and director, Sapa O’Chau

What are the three greatest challenges to Sapa’s tourism and how would you address them if you had your way?

Harassment: Street peddlers are mainly ethnic minority people selling handicrafts or providing unlicensed tours and homestays. They pester tourists over long distances to buy their products or harrass them to hop into minivans with the promise of low fares but instead charge exorbitant prices.

If these situations persist, the tranquil image of Sapa will be damaged and its appeal lost. Light-hearted videos and ways to deal with street peddlers can be made, and publicised via social media or shown on flights entering Vietnam.

Over-commercialisation: Sapa’s appeal is its ethnic minority cultures and traditions, climate and spectacular landscape. Over-commercialisation makes it feel unauthentic.

For example, the new Sapa market is too commercialised compared with the old, vibrant market. Another example is the cable car at Fansipan mountain. Foreigners prefer to climb it rather than take the cable car.

These big commercial developments mainly cater to domestic tourism but there needs to be a balance between
attracting domestic and foreign tourists.

Short-term gains: Locals go for short-term gains and often do not care about proper licensing and training. As a result, there are not enough trained workers in services and hospitality.

There needs to be a training facility in Sapa so local ethnic minorities can fit into this new economy; otherwise the vicious cycle of poverty will negatively affect tourism.

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