Fed up of hearing complaints about the quality of homestays in Vietnam, Bui Thi Nhan decided it was time to take the matter into her own hands.
With more than 15 years’ experience in the tourism industry, in 2012, Bui Thi Nhan – also director of Ecosea Travel – started running tours into Vietnam’s remote northern parts. With a focus on sustainable journeys, homestays formed an integral part of the experience. However, the quality was lacking.
She said: “The quality of homestays just wasn’t good enough. Tourists didn’t want to stay in hotels, they wanted the real experience, but the homestays were too basic.”
Nhan spent a year carrying out research, speaking to other tour operators, tourists and communities, and set about putting plans in place to elevate Vietnam’s homestay landscape.
Said Nhan: “Not all of the homestays are bad, some are good but need a bit of help, so we came up with a solution to work with them to upgrade their services, create activities and help them with their marketing.”
Nhan and her team of three set about finding potential homestays and working with the communities to create a collection of higher-quality offerings, as well as coming up with itineraries of activities for guests to do in the area.
“It’s not just about the homestay,” said Nhan. “There needs to be some sort of products that can be developed for guests to do in the area as well, such as cooking, carrying out activities with the family, and learning about the culture.”
That was the inspiration behind Ecohost, which aims to help communities behind homestays, who often have little experience in marketing and selling their products. Through the Ecohost website, all of the homestays are uniformly packaged and presented, with the option to book.
Said Nhan: “Homestays and community-based tourism can be a sustainable income for some of these families that live in the countryside and mountains. We really want to help them be successful, have lots of guests and make money.”
Ecohost has currently developed four “ecohost” offerings, with several others slated to be operational this year. In 2019, franchise options will be rolled out, with Nhan currently developing a set of standards that lay out strict criteria hosts must adhere to.
Ecohost has already been inundated with requests from existing homestays and tour operators wanting to partner up. Plans are in the pipeline to start connecting with online tour operators and push the product there, and in June the company landed a spot as a finalist in this year’s Mekong Innovative Startups in Tourism.
Nhan said: “We were very excited to hear this because it means people care about this project. We hope to benefit more communities and families in the future.”